Rassie's best still not a good bet against the All Blacks
The Boks have major positional challenges before even thinking about dealing with the collective All Black might
If Johan “Rassie” Erasmus wants to win the Rugby Championships, there’s the significant matter of having to beat the All Blacks home and away.
With the last game being at home, regardless of the formidable history that confronts the Boks against the All Blacks at Loftus Versfeld, there’s the tougher task of having to win in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Judging from how Super Rugby panned out, South Africa were on a hiding to nothing and from that perspective, that translates to the Springboks.
Super Rugby, as we saw with the Australians and their marvellous fightback in Dunedin last year, can’t always be used as a barometer, but the fact that the Sharks were the only South African team to have won a Super Rugby match in New Zealand makes for sobering reading.
There were times the New Zealand teams, the Blues in particular, dropped their guard, but they were always up for the South African challenge in their home patch.Even their travels to South Africa were reasonably successful; the Blues and the Crusaders won in Johannesburg while the Highlanders won in Pretoria.
Moving back to the Boks, Erasmus has again picked the best available squad within the available contractual limitations, but it has to be said, the Boks look quite light without Duane Vermeulen. Warren Whiteley is a capable player who ticks all the boxes from a skill and game reading perspective but doesn’t have the gain-line dominance provided by Vermeulen. This is the first ingredient needed to compete with the All Blacks, let alone beat them.
Vermeulen’s physicality was a key cornerstone of South Africa’s 2-1 win against England and the All Blacks would have viewed him as a clear and present danger.
From a forward perspective, the All Blacks and the Springboks are relatively evenly matched, with the big difference being the superior skill sets of the New Zealand forwards.
What could be the difference is at half-back where the Boks don’t have anything close to the depth, quality and skill the All Blacks possess in this key position.
This is where the Springboks could and will fail against the All Blacks, despite the composition of Erasmus’s squad.Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi don’t have any equals in South Africa, while Steve Hansen also saw it fit to leave out Brad Weber and Bryn Hall.
There’s also the midfield conundrum that continues to confound in Jan Serfontein’s absence, because until such time he returns to full fitness or becomes available for selection, South Africa’s midfield potential cannot be fulfilled.
New Zealand have the adaptable and indispensable Ryan Crotty and anyone who plays inside or outside of him often prosper. That could be either Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams or Jack Goodhue.Those are just the two positional challenges the Boks have to confront before they even deal with the collective All Black might. This alone makes it inconceivable for them to beat the All Blacks, but put up a better effort in New Zealand. The previous two trips to New Zealand (41-13 in Christchurch and 57-0 in Albany) have to be consigned to the scrapheap but also serve as a reminder of how difficult winning in New Zealand is. After all, South Africa have only won three times in New Zealand since 1994.
The fourth win looks a mile away but improvement could and should be the catchphrase because beating New Zealand requires more than just on-field excellence, but a dedicated and functioning rugby system that feeds from the bottom up. This isn’t something that Erasmus has at his disposal.