Springboks haven't delivered but hopefully will rise for the All Blacks
Don’t know about you, but I’ll be disappointed if the All Blacks aren’t beaten in this year’s Rugby Championship.
In ideal circumstances, Argentina might have given them a game this season. But we’ve now clearly seen they’re no chance.
Not because the players aren’t willing, nor because Mario Ledesma and sidekick Michael Cheika aren’t capable coaches.
The Pumas’ preparation for this tournament has been appalling and we may be about to see an emerging rugby power fade into obscurity.
But with Covid having redrawn the Southern Hemisphere rugby map – and with the Jaguares potentially an historical footnote to match the poor old Sunwolves – that might be it for Argentine rugby in the short to medium term.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong and that the second A in SAANZAR does again signify a competitive Argentine Super Rugby franchise, but it’s hard to see that happening any time soon.
The Pumas will try hard in this Rugby Championship, but they will battle to score points or stay on the right side of referees.
Maybe Nic Berry will reflect on New Zealand’s 39-0 win over Argentina and decide that maybe he didn’t need to sinbin Pablo Matera, well into first-half added time. Or maybe he’ll conclude that unnecessarily penalising the weaker team is one of life’s great refereeing pleasures.
Either way, the Pumas are going to be flat out keeping 15 blokes on the park.
So that’s now two teams who won’t trouble the All Blacks in this year’s Rugby Championship.
Australia barely fired a shot at the men in black and, rather than rejoice that they were able to sneak past South Africa on Sunday, I couldn’t help think about how mentally weak the Wallabies are.
Their efforts against the All Blacks were pathetic this year and now they turn around and beat the world champion Springboks.
If that’s the Wallabies’ standard – and if they have designs upon being an elite team – then they actually have to perform when there’s some expectation placed upon them. Not just, as was the case on Sunday, when there doesn’t appear to be a hope in hell of them winning.
We’ll get to the Boks in a minute, but Australia deserve some scrutiny first.
It is an indictment upon those charged with running and coaching the game in that country, that Quade Cooper retains even a shred of relevance.
He has barely strung two good games together in ten years, yet so parlous are Australia’s rugby stocks that Cooper didn’t just play against South Africa, he won the bloody match.
With a fit-again James O’Connor waiting in the wings, you don’t suddenly enthuse about the Wallabies’ five-eighth depth, as much as lament the fact that these two are still the best options they’ve got.
Which brings us to South Africa.
Boy, I wanted them to be good this year. To be big and boring and ruthlessly efficient and to finally put some of this year’s All Blacks performances into perspective.
We all know 2020 was a challenge for New Zealand. They were good in parts, but then blotted their copybook a bit by losing to Australia and Argentina.
Those circumstances were unique and most people were prepared to celebrate the fact that the Wallabies and Pumas had fronted up for a change, rather than criticise the All Blacks.
More than anything, though, folk took a longing look towards South Africa and dreamed of titanic tussles to come.
Now, we might still get those. The Springboks might be shamed into action by their 28-26 defeat to Australia. We might see them wipe the floor with the Wallabies this weekend and then rise again for their traditional All Black rivals.
I certainly hope so and I assume most rugby fans do too.
The All Blacks can only beat the teams who are put in front of them, and they’ve done that. We can all argue about what sort of competition Tonga, Fiji, Australia and now Argentina have been, but the bottom line is New Zealand have beaten them all comfortably.
Much was expected from the Springboks in 2021 but, so far, they’re yet to really deliver. There’s still time, but their shock defeat to Australia hardly augured well.
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