Here is a simple question: Why is it that the All Blacks go into every World Cup as favourites?
Is it because: A-The Haka; B-Their ominous black kit; or C-The fact that their winning percentage since 1986 (the year before the inaugural World Cup) sits at 82.3%?
The introduction of the World Cup to the international rugby calendar was a hasty decision back in the mid-80s and the first two instalments were almost seen as a nuisance to the old order.
But since 1995, when Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar catapulted rugby to a much wider global audience, the tournament became the focal point of the rugby calendar.
As a result, for the Springboks and several other countries, everything appears to be geared to towards winning the Webb Ellis Cup to the detriment of just about all else.
New Zealand of course, are desperate to win the World Cup too, but they have never done it at massive cost to the All Black legacy. Losing Tests has always been unacceptable to New Zealanders whereas in SA and other countries, losses have been excused as ‘building towards the World Cup’.
It’s quite simple really. How can you expect to win a World Cup if you go into the tournament on the back of regular defeats and poor form? It can happen of course, as it can happen that a form team (NZ) doesn’t win the World Cup, but it’s not a great strategy.
Which brings me to Rassie Erasmus’ Boks.
Erasmus has pleaded from the outset that he needs to find a way to develop a team to meet the challenge of RWC 2019 in Japan, and he has been given the slack required.
The Boks were in a low spot after 2016 and 2017 and while they haven’t exactly summited Mt Rugby yet, the signs have been encouraging.
Erasmus has had 10 Tests to tinker with his team – he has used 46 players this season – and he must now have a good idea of what his best 23 looks like.
November Tests against England, France, Scotland and Wales are next, which are four of seven matches that remain before their September 21, 2019 meeting against the All Blacks in Yokohama.
Erasmus’ side, after a year of tweaking and fiddling, has only won five of the 10 Tests played. November in the United Kingdom and France looms as a critical period for the Boks to start building momentum to the World Cup, but more importantly establishing themselves as a force in the game again.
The Bok coach can’t afford to tinker on the coming tour, although in some cases he will be forced to make changes due to the unavailability of players such as Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux.
But the time for wholesale experimentation has gone. It’s time to win at all costs. Nothing else matters because nothing builds confidence internally, and fear externally, as much as a winning team.
I hope the language used by the Boks in the coming month is only about winning and performance and not about building to the World Cup. The foundation has been laid throughout the Rugby Championships and the June Internationals.
The Boks have a strong base to work from and they have the spine of a good team. They have some confidence after two epic battles against the All Blacks and they are coming to grips with the defensive system Jacques Nienaber said would take months to bed down.
The Boks shouldn’t even mention the World Cup again. This tour is only about the present.
Win at Twickenham, win at Stade de France, win at Murrayfield and at the Principality Stadium and there will no need to talk about the World Cup. Everyone will know the Boks are coming.