Mark Keohane, in his Independent Media and IOL Sport daily World Cup column, writes that as wonderful as it was to watch the Boks destroy minnows like Namibia and Canada, the greater analysis remains the review of their tournament opening defeat to the All Blacks.
There were 25 fabulous minutes from the Springboks against Canada. The Boks played like the world’s best team pitted against the world’s worst. It was everything you expect when the number one side plays the team at the bottom.
The Boks were magnificent. Everything was done with pace and precision. Everything had a result. The Boks had the bonus point four-tries within 20 minutes. As politically incorrect as this will read, it was like taking candy from a child or clubbing baby seals. It was as awe-inspiring for the Boks as it was awful for Canada.
The four tries were soon 47 points at halftime. The Boks were going at a point a minute and Canada were down to 14 players for the second half minutes.
Now for some perspective:
Canada, hopeless at this World Cup and comfortably the weakest team, had taken 40-plus points from an Italian side that couldn’t win a match in the Six Nations. They didn’t score a point against the All Blacks but conceded 63, and against the Boks they rested the core of what they considered their best team so as to have a chance to beat Namibia.
The Boks, like the All Blacks, at the World Cup, had one big Pool game, and that was when the two teams met each other. It asked questions of both teams and answered some questions. The good news for both teams was that it was not a knockout match and there was still a month to sort out those nagging questions.
What has followed for both teams, has been the weirdest of times because no matter what they have done, it really is all meaningless in the build-up to the knockout stage.
The All Blacks were brilliant for 20 minutes against Canada, woeful for 20 minutes, then sensational for 20 and nowhere for the final 20 minutes. Against Namibia, they were mortal for 30 minutes, magnificent for 30 and indifferent for 20.
The Boks were clinical and brutal for 30 minutes against Namibia, decent for 30 and missing for 20 minutes. It all didn’t matter because no matter how poor the All Blacks or Boks were going to be against the likes of Namibia and Canada, they were going to win by 50 points.
It was joyous to watch the Boks hammer Namibia. Equally, it made for beautiful rugby when the All Blacks destroyed Namibia in the second half. But it meant absolutely nothing in the context of this World Cup.
Take delight out of the Boks and All Blacks doing what they should, which is destroy teams outside of the game’s top 10. But don’t confuse those wins with the form or strength of either the Boks or All Blacks.
The Boks and All Blacks have got to improve considerably to win this tournament. England have looked a better team than both and Wales have been particularly dangerous. Australia can’t be discounted.
On reflection the only match that mattered was the one the Boks lost and we will only know if they’ve answered those questions that contributed to their defeat against the All Blacks come the knockout round.
Enjoy the whipping of Canada and Namibia, but don’t invest in the significance of the result. Equally, New Zealand versus Canada and Namibia.