Set your alarm to go off like a vuvuzela on September 21 2019
Get ready already for the showdown in Yokohama between the Boks and the All Blacks at the World Cup
As scene-setters for a showdown in Yokohama go, the recent Rugby Championship clashes between the Springboks and All Blacks have set a high bar and expectations are rising.
The two most successful World Cup sides are set to clash in Yokohama in the opening game of Pool B at Rugby Cup World Cup 2019. It won’t decide the destiny of the title but it is a clash organisers hoped would be significant. For the past two years that looked unlikely, but after recent events the contest is going to be the hot ticket of the pool stages.
The Boks and All Blacks have rekindled a rivalry, reignited genuine respect between the nations and made the marketing departments of their respective unions’ jobs a doddle after two epic clashes in the 2018 Rugby Championships.
Over two Rugby Championship clashes this year the Boks and the All Blacks each won away from home, by two points. Both sides scored 66 points over the two games and both won the game they should have lost. Or lost the game they should have won.
The scores showed there was nothing in it, and for once it was an accurate reflection. Depending on the tint of your glasses the Boks should have won both, or the All Blacks should have won both. But they could have been draws too.
Outcomes turned on margins so thin they could’ve only been sliced by lasers. If there is some conclusion to be drawn, it’s that the Boks appear to have much room for improvement, while the All Blacks are fine-tuning a brilliant machine.
The Boks certainly don’t have the depth (yet) of the All Blacks, but they are capable of putting out a team with the physicality and tactical nous to match the world champions and unsettle them.
There will be one more clash between the sides before RWC 2019 during next year’s truncated Rugby Championship, but it will be a phony battle. It’s likely both coaches – Rassie Erasmus and Steve Hansen – will be trying to hide more than they are willing to show in that contest.
Real hostilities will resume for the 99th meeting between the sides during the Rugby World Cup opener on September 21 2019. It suddenly looms as a day of excitement for the Boks rather than dread and pessimism. And perhaps it is now the opposite for the All Blacks, who know that the Boks are not going to be easily subdued for the foreseeable future.
But even then the loser of that match should still progress out of the pool with Italy, Namibia and a lowly repechage winner to complete the quintet. Even though Italy recently beat the Boks, the change in fortunes for SA under Erasmus indicates that even a loss to NZ in their World Cup opener shouldn’t derail a comfortable path to the knockout stages.
That opening game, though, has much riding on it. From gaining confidence and momentum to perhaps establishing a slightly easier route in the knockout stages. The loser is likely to meet Ireland in the quarterfinals.
After the Irish beat the Boks 38-3 last year there was genuine optimism that meeting the Boks at any stage at the World Cup shouldn’t be a daunting prospect for the Irish. Now it seems Joe Schmidt’s men face a real possibility of playing the All Blacks earlier than hoped.
This is all wild conjecture, but of all the major global sporting events rugby is the easiest to predict the top teams. The Boks have failed only once to reach the World Cup semifinals and the All Blacks have never missed out on the last four.
Recent form indicates that they’re both major contenders for the semis a year out from the tournament. But first all roads lead to Yokohama where the first marker will be laid down.