springboks world cup contenders

South Africa’s Willie le Roux celebrates the final whistle as Springboks celebrate their 36-34 win over the All Blacks during the 2018 Investec Rugby Championship between All Blacks vs South Africa, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday 15th September 2018. Copyright Photo: Raghavan Venugopal / © www.Photosport.nz 2018

How one win bumped the Springboks from outsiders to World Cup contenders

It’s easy to get carried away in the euphoria of achieving the impossible, but the Springboks will be right to believe they can now conquer the world.

springboks world cup contenders

South Africa’s Willie le Roux celebrates the final whistle as Springboks celebrate their 36-34 win over the All Blacks during the 2018 Investec Rugby Championship between All Blacks vs South Africa, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday 15th September 2018. Copyright Photo: Raghavan Venugopal / © www.Photosport.nz 2018

To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. So goes the old cliche, and that’s precisely what the Springboks did against the All Blacks in Wellington yesterday, proclaiming coach Rassie Erasmus to declare that the World Cup dream is back on track.

Having inspired some belief among Bok fans by closing out a series against England in his first few months in charge, the former Free State flanker’s charges were staring at three defeats on the trot, in what would have been an indication that not much has changed after his predecessor Allister Coetzee’s torrid spell in charge.

Until Saturday, Erasmus’ Boks were yet to emerge triumphant on foreign soil, and this includes the neutral ground of Washington DC, where what was admittedly a B-team squared up against Wales in June – and changing this fact against the rampant Kiwis seemed the unlikeliest of results.

He revealed after the game that he had targetted it to assess if they could turn things around from being no-hopers at the beginning of the year, to World Cup contenders with just ten Tests remaining before the global showpiece event kicks off in Japan next year.

“When we started planning we thought there’s only one way to come back and that is to beat New Zealand in New Zealand,” Erasmus said.

“That was a month ago. Then we lost those two games in a row, and you lose some belief, but we always targeted this game to say ‘we can turn things [around] and be real contenders at the World Cup’.

“The World cup is still a year away, and we have 10 test matches which we can try things and start building to a World cup squad of 31 or 37 men.

“It gives us hope to be real contenders and not just a wannabe.”

Read: Rugby: Springboks beat All Blacks, but Rassie Erasmus says they got lucky

Just how realistic is the Springboks’ World Cup dream?

Erasmus’ assertion that beating the All Blacks in their own backyard puts them in good stead for the World Cup is not far from the truth.

The two sides meet again at the back end of the Rugby Championship at Loftus and, with the self-belief that his charges gained from the remarkable feat they pulled off in Wellington you can almost back them to make it two wins out of two against the world champions.

However, their record against the All Blacks in Pretoria reads a sorry tale, as they are yet to defeat them there in the professional era. With that said, losing streaks are meant to be halted, as was the case at the Cake Tin.

This psychological marker is essential as they are guaranteed to square off against each other in Japan, as they have been drawn together in Pool B, meaning there’s no avoiding their bitter foes, whom they might still meet again at a later stage in the competition.

The Springboks’ remaining Tests of 2018 include a few more demons to exorcise before they jet off to Japan, as they are still in search of a first victory in two years over southern hemisphere rivals Australia, whom they face before embarking on their end of the year tour which features an encounter against Wales, who they last beat in 2015.

Their other two November internationals are against teams they have had a more than decent record in recent years in England and France.

Rassie is not short on personnel

Erasmus will likely have no man who has gone all the way and won the World Cup at his disposal next year. That is unless Victor Matfield stages another comeback from retirement, or someone like Francois Steyn or Bismark du Plessis is brought back into the reckoning.

However, there will be some adequate enough experience in the camp, looking at the players who have featured so far under him.

Tendai Mtawarira is the most capped player out of the lot and has featured in the two previous World Cups, alongside Francois Louw. Thirteen other players were part of Heyneke Meyer’s squad for the previous edition, where the All Blacks pipped them at the semi-finals.

The number includes captain Siya Kolisi, eighthman Duane Vermeulen, lock duo Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth, with flyhalf Handre Pollard in the possible first team, as well as the likes of Schalk Brits, who was hauled out of retirement with the view to having his experience around the dressing room in Japan.

To add to the notable experience will be the mercurial talents of the tireless Faf de Klerk and the explosive Aphiwe Dyantyi, as well as the likes of Malcolm Marx and RG Synman upfront.

Still a few loose ends to tie up

The euphoria of the collective effort in Wellington against a nigh-invincible foe will bring hope to those desperately needing the Boks to turn the corner, but one – most importantly Erasmus and his coaching staff – cannot be fooled into believing that the side is anywhere near settled.

One particular concern will be the centre combination which, although there has been healthy competition for both the 12 and 13 jerseys, it’s still pretty hard to tell which is the best pair.

After a pedestrian two years, Damian de Allende looks to be getting back to his best and appears to have wrestled his starting berth back from Andre Esterhuizen. The injured Lukhanyo Am seemed to have a firm enough grip on the number 13 jersey, as indicated by him starting more matches at outside centre than Jesse Kriel, with the latter shifted to the wing in the most recent encounter.

With ten matches remaining before the World Cup, Rassie seems to be willing to try out different options rather than picking a horse and backing it, meaning the likes of Lionel Mapoe and the recovering Jan Serfontein could still come to the reckoning.

Another area which will have given the coaching staff, and fans alike, headaches is the all-too-crucial number 10 jersey.

Incumbent Pollard has had an iffy season so far and, ahead of his stellar performance on Saturday, seemed to have lost his kicking boots, while his understudy Elton Jantjies had failed to transform his Lions’ form into Bok colours before his impressive cameo appearance at the Cake Tin.

There is of, course, the untested talent of young Damian Willemse, who could be an option at flyhalf, but Erasmus has indicated that he prefers him at fullback.

So, are the Springboks ready to conquer the world?

Expecting a side which, just a week ago, appeared to be ranked a little too high in their number seven slot in the world rankings to be ready to hoist the most coveted piece of silverware in the sport looks like a long shot. However, the big victory means they have ticked a key box in their pursuit for a third World Cup title.

Unless something goes completely awry in the coming months for the All Blacks, they will go into Japan as outright favourites, but there is no doubting that the Springboks will be in among the contenders.

Among the other sides expected to challenge for top honours, it could be argued that Australia and England are in far worse off state than Rassie’s men.

For the Springboks’ sake, it’s a great pity that they will not have a chance to get one back over world number two side Ireland ahead of the global showpiece.

Closing out the home leg of the Rugby Championship on a high, plus a good showing in the November internationals will be absolutely crucial.

The victory in Wellington might have instantly restored the respect in the green and gold, but the onus is now on the Springboks to prove that they are worthy.