While a victory against the All Blacks in New Zealand would taxi South Africa onto the best available runway to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the record books predict that the Boks are bound to take off from something shorter and bumpier.
Supporters have got their tails up after the Boks cracked open the Rugby Championship with a 35-17 win against the Wallabies at Ellis Park – a result made more inspirational by the fact that Rassie Erasmus had deployed his B-team.
It improved South Africa’s record to 5-3 in their last eight matches which, more significantly, included a pulsating 36-34 victory in Wellington last September, the Boks’ first taste of success against the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009.
After two of the worst seasons in team history, Rassie Erasmus’ term has restored hope that South Africa is returning to the form that won two world championships. But blind hope and informed optimism are not the same thing, and South Africa’s record against the All Blacks, especially in New Zealand, doesn’t bode well for Saturday’s showdown at the Cake Tin.
Since the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the Boks have beaten the All Blacks seven times in 25 attempts (28%), including three wins on Kiwi soil in 12 Tests (25%).
In the 98-year history of this great rivalry, South Africa has only twice claimed back-to-back wins in New Zealand (in 2009 and 1937).
Erasmus has set the Boks up for their best possible opportunity to deal the All Blacks a hefty blow, parachuting some of his best troops into enemy territory one week early.
Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Makazole Mapimpi have been retained in the starting lineup, while grizzled veteran Duane Vermeulen will lead the invasion party from No 8 with Kwagga Smith set to earn his second Test cap at openside flanker.
New Zealand have remained relatively unchallenged at the top of the rankings since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, winning 86 of 103 Tests including eight losses and three draws.
The hope is that the Boks put a huge dent in the All Blacks’ confidence before the teams meet again in Japan. History cautions fervent supporters to expect a gutsy performance that ends in defeat.
All Blacks: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Bench: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 George Bridge
Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Bench: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel