South Africa lost their world No.1 ranking to the All Blacks on Saturday night – this week they could well lose their dignity.
Australia’s convincing 30-17 win at Suncorp Stadium, along with the All Blacks defeat of Argentina by a suitable margin, saw New Zealand jump past the Springboks into top spot.
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber was scathing of the performance – and acknowledged everyone on the tourists’ shell shocked squad needed to be better including the coaches.
Saturday’s match in Townsville is the 100th between the great rugby rivals. There can’t be a South Africa fan who doesn’t fear abject humiliation against a team that steam rolled Australia and eased past Argentina with a second string.
Here’s an indication of how the All Blacks can step it up this week, after the unbeaten team went 10 points clear of the Springboks in the championship.
Coach Ian Foster is likely to recall Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Dalton Papalii and Akira Ioane to his starting pack. In the backs, Beauden Barrett will likely return at No. 10, with David Havili and Anton Lienert-Brown likely to be his midfielders after making 11 changes for Saturday’s game.
Foster played down the achievement of going back to the top of the rankings, which the All Blacks surrendered to the Springboks at the World Cup.
“It’s not in our mind at all,” Foster said.
“We’re about to play South Africa next week. We’ll get excited about that. We’re more interested in winning a Test match than where we sit. If we focus too much on the other thing we’ll get tripped up and we won’t be there for very long and that doesn’t interest us either.”
Foster said his team would need to be more ruthless on Saturday, after their performance trailled off against Los Pumas.
“There’s enough there tonight that people are going to pick a few holes in things and rightly so,” Foster said after the game.
“We’ve got to be a lot more ruthless when we do create stuff because we left a few points out there that tightened the game up unnecessarily but, overall, it was good for our newer players to feel that tension.
“That fourth quarter will be gold for us because they’ll realise you never have anyone beaten at test level and if you don’t finish them off when you’ve got a chance, you’re in for a bun fight.”
Foster expects the Springboks to be better for the two runs against the Wallabies.
“It will be a torrid game, they always are,” Foster said.
“I saw about 50 minutes of that game to know what’s coming. The Wallabies did a really good job against them two weeks in a row.
“It’s probably the first time the South Africans have faced a team that plays with a lot of tempo in the past two years.
“We’ve got to remember they’ve been in the wilderness last year so they’ll learn a lot from that.
“All Blacks v South Africa games are always special.”
“Are the Wallabies as good as they looked on Saturday, or is it just that the Springboks are completely bereft of ideas when the big, bad, ogre act doesn’t spook an opponent?” wrote Phil Gifford in the New Zealand Herald.
“A bit of both feels the most likely. I never thought I’d write these words, but Quade Cooper has provided a stability the Wallabies have been sadly lacking.
“And in Samu Kerevi they have a midfielder who brings to mind the best All Black second-five I’ve ever seen, Ma’a Nonu. Like Nonu, Kerevi has huge physical presence, and, again like Nonu, Kerevi has a swag of rugby intelligence to go with the brawn.
“On the other hand, the Springboks, while physically fearless, are mentally fragile. Their backs couldn’t cope with the fact the Wallabies were matching them in the forwards.
“There’s talent in the Springbok backline, but, just as it was a week ago, when they tried to organise themselves to attack it was about as seamless as Basil Fawlty and Manuel on a bad day in the dining room.”
It will take a monumental reversal of form for the Boks to avoid being a laughing stock in their landmark meeting on Saturday.
“It’s tough,” said Boks No.10 Handre Pollard in the aftermath of the defeat.
“We are emotional and disappointed in ourselves – but a huge test awaits us next week and we have to get ourselves ready for that.
“We have to be very honest with ourselves in the review of the game and see where we can improve.
“But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves for too long. We must try to get over this quickly, so we’ll have a reset day on Sunday.
“There certainly won’t be a lack of motivation when we face the All Blacks, and in every Test for that matter. We know we are not good enough at the moment, but we’ll develop plans.
“The one thing I know about this team is when our backs are against the wall, we can come back strongly.
“We can’t say much more than that and we won’t make excuses, but we’ll come back next week and hopefully turn things around.”