Do Boks have what it takes to rule the world?
To measure progress, the only way is to compare to All Blacks
Coming off four wins in 12 tests, or a 33% winning ratio last year, the Springboks didn’t have a high bar to clear to be statistically better this year.
Their results have improved, with five wins, two draws and a record loss in their opening eight matches.
But are the Springboks on a trajectory that will somehow put them in the same stratosphere as the All Blacks any time in the near future?
And comparing the Boks to the All Blacks is the only way to measure real progress because New Zealand are the standard every team has to match to win a World Cup (or Rugby Championship).
The fact is the Springboks and All Blacks played out a thrilling World Cup semifinal in 2015 with the latter winning 20-18.
New Zealand were the slightly better team on the day and deserved their victory and the eventual world title that followed against Australia a week later.
But how is it possible that the Springboks, who were within touching distance of the All Blacks two years ago, lost their next three test matches against the world champions by an average score of 52-9?
Bok coach Allister Coetzee has overseen those three defeats in Christchurch (41-13) and Durban (57-15) last year, which preceded the Albany debacle. In three tests against the All Blacks before yesterday, the Springboks scored one try and conceded 23.
Does this Springbok team and management staff have what it takes to become world champions in 2019 in Japan? Has what we’ve seen this year given the impression that the Boks, in their second year under the same coach, are on an upward curve?
Coetzee took over the Bok team ranked third in the world. Their ranking dropped to seventh by the end of last year and before yesterday, the Boks were back up to fourth. MEASURING THE 2017 BOKS: Quality of opposition New Zealand aside, the Springboks have only played one team ranked in the top five this season — Australia — and failed to beat them in two meetings.
The cornerstone of a team in rebuilding phase is getting the defence right
France: Les Bleus arrived in South Africa in June with a squad decimated by injuries.
They were ranked sixth in the world to the Boks’ seventh. South Africa won the series comfortably with two tests played at altitude. The Boks did what was required but the French asked almost no tough questions.
Argentina: Los Pumas are in virtual free fall since coming fourth at the last World Cup. Coming into the Rugby Championship, they were ranked ninth.
Beating them twice was the minimum the Boks could expect, though the win in Salta was the first time a Coetzee Bok team won an away match.
Australia: Against another team rebuilding, the Boks were perhaps fortunate to earn a draw in Perth (23-23) just as they were unfortunate not to win in Bloemfontein (27-27).
The Aussies remain the only top-fiveranked team the Boks have beaten (18-10 last year) in the last two years prior to yesterday.
New Zealand: The Boks have been humiliated by the All Blacks in the last two years. DEFENCE The cornerstone of any team in a rebuilding phase is getting the defence right. It’s something the Boks failed to do last year with 35 tries conceded in their 12 tests, or a fraction under three per match.
Statistically, the Boks haven’t shown much improvement in that department, which is odd considering they have had one defence coach (Brendan Venter) rather than four as they did last year.
After eight matches, the Springboks had conceded 21 tries — 2.6 per match — which is slightly better than last season. When you consider that before last year the Boks had conceded only 1.53 tries per game between 1891-2015, it’s still a worrying trend.
When taking out New Zealand’s eight tries in Albany, the Boks are conceding 1.8 tries per match, which is acceptable. ATTACK After scoring a measly 20 tries last year, the Boks have improved that aspect of their play with 26 tries so far this season, at just 3.25 per match, which is above their historical 2.8 per match average.
Last year, the Springboks made 1 173 ball carries over 12 tests (97 per match) averaging 17.5 carries per line break. This year, they have made 790 carries (98 per match) averaging 16.8 carries per line break. These are marginal gains at best.
An optimist would say the Springboks are moving forward and improving, though at a glacial pace in an arena where their strides need to be more urgent. A realist might conclude that after nearly two full seasons under Coetzee, there is no indication that the Boks are narrowing the gap where it matters.
A miraculous win at Newlands might change the narrative, but anything less than victory over New Zealand would suggest that Springbok rugby is still falling behind the sport’s elite.
Cheetahs flanker Uzair Cassiem believes the Springboks have stepped up a level since last year.