Sta­dium not a bo­gey, but beat­ing France at home is high on the Boks’to-do list

Satur­day Com­ment

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

HE Spring­boks have man­aged to get a few bo­geys off their backs this year. When they scraped to a nar­row win over Ar­gentina in Men­doza, it was their first tri­umph in an away-leg game in the pre­mier south­ern hemi­sphere in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion since 2009, and when they won in Bris­bane two weeks later, it was their first win there since for good­ness knows how long.

Heyneke Meyer likes tick­ing off the boxes when it comes to tak­ing his side through the dif­fer­ent fron­tiers that you face dur­ing your time as Bok coach. So it hasn’t been sur­pris­ing that the South African record against France on French soil has been a big part of the dis­course in the build-up to tonight’s match at Stade de France.

The Boks haven’t won here against France in 16 years, and on that prima fa­cie ev­i­dence, you would sug­gest that this is in­deed another bo­gey that needs to be con­quered.

But talk of Paris be­ing any kind of hoodoo for the Boks is a bit like sug­gest­ing that the sight of sea birds dive-bomb­ing the wa­ter is bad news for fish­er­men.

The Boks have only played France twice in Paris in those 16 years. Two other games were played out­side Paris. In 2002, Ru­dolf Straeuli’s team were smashed in Mar­seilles, but hav­ing been at that match, I want to tell you there is a good rea­son why that venue has been tough even on the All Blacks over the years. There is no more noisy, ag­gres­sive and par­ti­san crowd in world rugby.

In 2009 John Smit took his team to Toulouse fol­low­ing a tri­umphant south­ern sea­son that had seen them beat the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons and eas­ily win the Tri-Na­tions. They thought they were the bees knees, and their com­pla­cency was il­lus­trated by their de­ci­sion to fly to France only two days be­fore the game.

It was no sur­prise to me at the time that they got caught in an am­bush.

There have been only two de­feats in Paris. The first was in 2001, when Harry Viljoen’s team was beaten 20-10. That re­sult needs to be placed in con­text – that was an era when South African rugby wasn’t ex­actly blessed with tal­ent.

A re­build­ing job was un­der way, and Viljoen was drift­ing in a no­man’s-land when it came to strat­egy af­ter it be­came clear to him that he wasn’t go­ing to be able to rein­vent the Bok play­ing style in the way that he had hoped.

In 2005, the last time the Boks played the French at Stade de France, it was a bit­terly cold night, with a layer of snow hav­ing cov­ered the Parisian streets in the morn­ing, and it looked as though the Boks were still try­ing to thaw out when the French built up a big early lead.

The South Africans re­cov­ered and came back strongly at the end and nearly won the game, but they had just left them­selves with too much to do.

That also wasn’t the strong­est team the coach of that era was able to push into the field. You might re­call it as a Test that Jake White

Thad Meyer Bos­man play­ing one of only two games he was to play at in­ter­na­tional level at fly­half be­cause of an in­jury to An­dre Pre­to­rius.

So how much of a bo­gey is Stade de France re­ally, par­tic­u­larly if you counter-bal­ance it with the games that the Boks have won against other coun­tries at the venue?

In 1999 Nick Mal­lett’s team smashed Eng­land there in a World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal, while in 2007, Eng­land were again swamped, this time in a pool game. Later in the tour­na­ment the Boks re­turned to Stade de France to win a semi-fi­nal against Ar­gentina and the fi­nal against Eng­land.

By my count that makes the South African record at Stade de France: Played 6, won 4, lost 2 ( the home of French rugby switched from Parc des Princes to Stade de France im­me­di­ately af­ter the 52-10 Bok win there in 1997).

But while that sug­gests Stade de France is far from a bo­gey field, it doesn’t mean the Boks aren’t up against it tonight.

A lot will de­pend on how the Boks see France. We know the French grow an ex­tra arm and a leg when they play top south­ern hemi­sphere op­po­si­tion, but what we don’t know is whether the Boks have the same in­tense de­sire to beat France that they do to beat Eng­land.

Why that is im­por­tant is be­cause they have had just a six-day turn­around from their last match against Scot­land and to me the play­ers are look­ing un­der­stand­ably fa­tigued af­ter all the non-stop chal­lenges they have had to face down in the form of Su­per Rugby, in­com­ing tours, Rugby Cham­pi­onship, Cur­rie Cup and now the Novem­ber tour since it all started back in Fe­bru­ary.

I have seen them like this be­fore on pre­vi­ous end-of-year tours, but the knowl­edge they are play­ing Eng­land, a foe they al­ways seem par­tic­u­larly de­ter­mined to beat for rea­sons that may re­late to his­tory, tends to drive them through the fi­nal week.

The last time they didn’t play Eng­land in a fi­nal match of the year was 2009, when they went to Dublin, and it was the last time they lost a last game on tour.

And the pre­vi­ous time they lost an end-of-sea­son game was here in Paris in 2005. On all the other oc­ca­sions they have fin­ished the year with a flour­ish, and each time they have been play­ing Eng­land.

So the Bok chances to­day de­pend on how des­per­ate they are to beat France and sweep the bit­ing cold and fa­tigue aside in or­der to do so.

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