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The tonic Boks need ahead of World Cup

OPINION: The Springboks will likely send an ‘A’ team to New Zealand with a split squad strategy in this year’s Rugby Championship for one very specific reason.

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This is because the All Black scalp holds utmost importance for the Springboks, out of self-interest above anything else.

It is the tonic for South African rugby to alleviate any public pressure and has the desired impact of fuelling the confidence level of the side.

The Springbok brains trust knows this having seen the impact of the 2018 win in Wellington, which was deemed the catalyst for a belief shift within the squad.

Quite quickly the sub-par losses against Argentina and Australia from the previous two Tests were forgotten and the Springboks were deemed ‘contenders’ again.

The narrative around the Boks quickly changed and ultimately became a self-fulfilling prophecy despite Erasmus finishing with a worse record than Allister Coetzee in his first year at the helm.

It is an inconvenient truth but the history books show Erasmus with a 50 percent win rate in 2018 and Coetzee with 54 percent the year before. The Springboks lost four tests in 2017 and seven in 2018.

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But there are two major differences not accounted for on the face value of the records, under Coetzee the defeats the Boks took were too lopsided at times and they were shamed against New Zealand.

Coetzee lost all four Tests against the All Blacks, in 2016 by 13-41 in Christchurch and a record home loss of 15-57 in Durban.

In 2017 they were demoralised 0-57 in the first Test in Albany before rebounding for a tight 24-25 loss at Newlands.

Under Erasmus and Nienaber the Springboks have never been embarrassed by New Zealand and have been in every contest played. They also have not been blown off the park in any Test the way that Coetzee’s Boks were.

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In the eight Tests played between South African and New Zealand since 2018, four have been decided by two points. The All Blacks have won four, lost three and one draw has been shared.

It is vital for the Springboks to be competitive against New Zealand and Erasmus and Nienaber know this.

Doing so provides the coaching staff immunity and has the add-on effect of galvanising the squad and supporter base. Even if they lose to a second-rate Test side, beating the All Blacks brings back hope.

The current head coach and Director of Rugby were members of the 2011 coaching staff under Pieter de Villiers that learnt a valuable lesson.

In that World Cup year, they sent a ‘B’ side to New Zealand who were slaughtered 7-40 in Wellington.

South Africa’s lone win of that Tri-Nations came when New Zealand reciprocated their generosity and sent a ‘B’ side to Port Elizabeth.

Despite that, the Springboks did not have any momentum, finishing last in the Tri-Nations after also being swept by Australia.

The ageing 2011 Bok side were sent packing by Australia in the quarterfinal of the World Cup, at the same stadium their ‘B’ side had been put to the sword in the Tri-Nations.

It was a big mistake to not pay appropriate consideration to the Tri-Nations and use the opportunity to knock off the top dog at the time on home soil.

Erasmus and co opted to change this approach in 2019 before the Rugby World Cup in Japan by sending the top squad out to New Zealand while the second-string side stayed home to play Australia.

They beat the Wallabies comfortably at home and drew with New Zealand away to set up the run into the Rugby World Cup.

The Springboks must find similar results over both Tests in the Rugby Championship to reinforce the side’s momentum after losses to France and Ireland at the end of 2022.

Losing to Eddie Jones and the Wallabies at home is an unacceptable proposition, but they absolutely must push the All Blacks all the way.

Those two Tests will set up the Springboks’ year for success or failure, but particularly the All Blacks Test.

It is the ‘fix-all’ tonic the Boks crave, the shot of ‘dutch courage’ to invigorate their World Cup hopes.

The fact is every failed World Cup campaign by South Africa has ended in defeat to either Australia or New Zealand.

No other nation has knocked out the Springboks of a World Cup, which highlights how important the close foes are to South Africa.

If they flail in July they will fail in October, which is why the A squad will be given ample time to prepare for the All Blacks in New Zealand.

It is a necessity for the Springboks to put up a strong showing.

@RugbyPass

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