In the wake of a poor result against a very average Australian side, there will be many who give South Africa no chance to beat New Zealand at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin this weekend. But when the two great rivals meet there is inevitably a levelling of the playing field. Springbok teams play best with their backs to the wall and save their sternest efforts for the All Blacks.
Of course, in the year following a World Cup and with a host of retirements and injuries, it could be argued that there is no reason to believe that the Boks have their backs to the wall at all. But a siege mentality has been developed and fostered by their management. Team practices have been closed to observers after the first 15 minutes and media interaction has been kept to an absolute minimum.
The inevitable criticism of a side lacking in light and shade has thus been exacerbated. Six tests into his tenure as coach, Heyneke Meyer still cannot see beyond Zane Kirchner at fullback and Morné Steyn at flyhalf. He has dropped Marcel Coetzee, the only forward in the squad with any pace, and replaced him with Francois Louw.
Louw, it is claimed, is a genuine openside flanker, but anyone who has actually witnessed him in action might demur. If Meyer really wants a proper openside, Heinrich Brussow is fit again and should be in Dunedin. Management saw it fit to fly Frans Malherbe in from Cape Town this week as cover for two fragile tighthead props, but could not bring themselves to eat humble pie and put Brussow on the same flight.
The two-week suspension handed to Eben Etzebeth has exacerbated the situation up front. His replacement is Flip van der Merwe, another ambling Alp who should never be considered in the starting line-up if Andries Bekker is available, no matter what heinous crime the Stormers lock may have committed in Argentina.
The whole team needs an injection of pace and wit and the resources are available to do so. The loyal but ageing Jean de Villiers is being hung out to dry at outside centre and Frans Steyn should be moved to fullback to allow the captain closer to the action. Juan de Jongh could then come off the bench to play in the number 13 jersey and Pat Lambie should exchange places with Steyn.
If Louw has to play, it should be alongside Coetzee, not instead of him, which would allow Willem Alberts to operate in his favourite position of number eight in the place of Duane Vermeulen. The explosive pace of hooker Craig Burden should be available on the bench and the same goes for Lwazi Mvovo, both of whom have been overlooked entirely.
Much will be made within the squad of what happened in Dunedin in 2008. The reigning World Champions, as they then were, had been well beaten 19-8 in Wellington the week before. They had lost their captain, John Smit, to a crude and, it is alleged, preplanned assault by Brad Thorn. Victor Matfield took the reins at Carisbrook, but he was sin-binned for a high tackle seven minutes from time.
Three minutes after Matfield was ordered from the field by referee Matt Goddard, scrumhalf Ricky Januarie wrote his name indelibly into Springbok history with a piece of individual brilliance. At a ruck 30m out, Januarie wrestled free of Keven Mealamu and Neemia Tialata, chipped over the head of Leon MacDonald and successfully gathered again to level the scores. Frans Steyn knocked over the conversion to win the game 30-28.
It was the first-ever win by a Springbok team in Dunedin in a gloomy series of results in the world's southernmost city stretching back to 1921. In fact, the very first Test between the sides was at Carisbrook in 1921. The reason for the relatively late matching of the sides was World War I and it was South Africa's first test in eight years.
Flying wing Attie van Heerden, who had sprinted for his country at the Stockholm Olympics the previous year, scored a first-half try that was converted by Gerhard Morkel. But 5-0 to the tourists at half-time became a 13-5 defeat as the All Blacks found their game in the second half.
Long ago and far away, in Springbok Saga, Chris Greyvenstein wrote of that second half that "the All Blacks ran the South Africans off their feet to score three tries". Those words resonate down the ages and it would be surprising if the team of 2012 did not adopt exactly the same tactics.
New Zealand were no more than average against Argentina in Wellington last week and lost three heels against the head, which should encourage them to avoid the tight exchanges that might allow South Africa into the game this week. Captain Richie McCaw kept his side afloat with a terrific display at the breakdowns and, if he does the same again, the pace and flair of his fellow back rowers and the outside backs should prove too good for the Boks.
Mail bonding: A Bok and forth between two fans
Dear Dave – thanks for the mandatory "Heyneke-fluffs-his lines" mail from the Gold Coast. It's clearly going to be a spam-riddled spring. I agree, though, that Heyneke's turnover of walkie-talkies is unacceptably high. I wonder if he somehow feels his message isn't getting through? Maybe he should get Rassie Erasmus to wave a few flags?
How goes it Charles? Found myself cruising down the Pacific Highway today wondering about you poor bastards hanging around, waiting for your president to claim another wife. What a country you live in. And there wasn't a pothole in sight, mate, not a pothole in sight. Talking about potholes, the Boks are about to run into a big one in Dunedin this weekend. It'll make the second half in Perth look like my son's fourth birthday party. The Blackness are going to be all over them. It'll be so dark down there on the South Island that Heyneke won't even be able to see his walkie-talkie.
Dear Dave – So you're an All Black fan now? I've always liked your promiscuity. Is this what the sunny climes of the Gold Coast do to a man? Collapses his moral fibre. What next? An honourary Samoan? The problem with Australian rugby is that there isn't an Aussie in sight. Take out Nathan Sharpe and Berrick Barnes and you've got a team full of Pacific Islanders. I wonder if there are canoes and outriggers in the players' parking lot? That's what I love about Aussies – the sophistication of their hypocrisy. How is it that your backline all got visas so quickly?
No need to get personal, mate. My beef with the Boks is there's so much anger there, so much self-loathing. I mean, who calls their son Bismarck? Let's face it, we all know what Mr and Mrs Du Plessis wanted to call him. It's time for your nation to chill, to all cool your cucumbers, because Heyneke's going to be doing a lot of apologising in the next few matches. Maybe he should consider apologising to the rugby gods? How will that wash with the folks back home? He's going to be issuing so many damn apologies that he'll have no time for coaching. Not that he seems to coach much but the Garryowen anyway. And recalling Bakkies. How desperate was that? Bet he's on the walkie-talkie to Fourie as we speak.
Dear Dave – Granted, you do a good impersonation of a chilled Queenslander, but I know your grubby secret. You're just a confused boy from Westville, never quite sure whether to be happy or sad when his young son cheers for the Wallabies. At least I actually live in the country I support, rather than living outside Brisbane and sending me snotty emails about Heyneke and his love-hate relationship with the walkie-talkie.
Mate, mate, mate – no need to get so het up. I love the Boks, but hell, I hate the rugby they play. In that way I'm like thousands of folks back home. Home, mate, I said it. You've got me there. – Luke Alfred