The big question being asked after Saturday’s second series of matches in this year’s Rugby Championship is which team could have gone to bed satisfied.
Definitely the All Blacks, who after two impressive victories over the Argentine Cougars (41-12 in Mendoza) and the Springboks (35-20 in Auckland), are the leaders in the series and will most likely be crowned as this year’s champion.
On Monday, the All Blacks will also move up to second in World Rugby’s rankings with France, behind the Irish, with the Springboks still fourth.
The Boks’ defeat is indeed a temporary setback, but it does not have to stand in their way for their attack at this year’s World Cup tournament in France.
Yes, for momentum, confidence and continuity it is important, but not the alpha and omega.
What did happen is that certain predictions came true.
It was said beforehand that the All Blacks would struggle this year because they no longer played against the physical South African teams in the Super Rugby Pacific series. Wrong.
It was widely speculated beforehand that the Boks would have an advantage because they had sent the majority of the players to New Zealand beforehand to prepare. The All Blacks, who played against the Argentine Cougars in Mendoza last Saturday, only arrived in New Zealand on Monday evening and reportedly complained of jet lag. Wrong.
Beforehand it was said that the Bokke’s so-called “Bomb squad” would swing the scale in their favour. They did indeed make a difference, because the Boks won the second half 17-15, but still lost the game.
Still, there are many questions that can be asked after the defeat.
Doesn’t Kurt-Lee Arendse belong in the starting team rather than Makazole Mapimpi? At the current level of play, isn’t André Esterhuizen a better choice than Damian de Allende at inside centre? Who should play flyhalf and who should kick to the posts and to the touchline?
Is Faf de Klerk still the preferred choice at scrumhalf over Cobus Reinach? Shouldn’t Malcolm Marx start instead of Bongi Mbonambi, isn’t Duane Vermeulen a better choice than Jasper Wiese at eight and shouldn’t RG Snyman be in the starting team instead of Lood de Jager?
When the Boks held up the Webb Ellis trophy in 2007 and 2019, they were not undefeated either.
In 2007, before the WC tournament in France, the Boks were beaten twice against the All Blacks (21-26 and 6-33) and were also beaten by the Wallabies 25-17. Yet they lifted the World Cup.
In 2019, the Boks were beaten by the All Blacks and they also drew once against the All Blacks before lifting the World Cup again in Japan.
There is very little to choose between the top four teams: the Irish, French, All Blacks and Springboks.
England, Wales, Scotland, the Cougars as well as the Wallabies are also banana peels on which any team can slide and don’t forget Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Japan who might cause a big shock.
There are so many things that can derail a team, such as injuries and referees’ decisions (also red and yellow cards) that don’t go your way.
That’s why Saturday’s defeat against the All Blacks does not leave the team in the sack.
Things are still on track for the World Cup tournament, although a warning light has started flashing.