Can the Springboks show genuine mental toughness to tick Wallaby box?
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DURBAN - THE Springboks’ victory over the British and Irish Lions was a significant step towards confirming they are the real deal following their World Cup win, but beating the Wallabies in Australia would be another important step in the team’s upward evolution.
The Boks play the Wallabies on Sunday on the Gold Coast and then next Saturday in Brisbane, and if the Boks can win these games, they will confirm they have a mental toughness that has mostly eluded even the best Boks teams when it comes to defeating the Wallabies on their home soil.
The Boks have won just five times in Australia since readmission 29 years ago, and the Wallabies have managed only the same number of wins in South Africa, while there have been two draws. It is almost as if the two teams have settled into a routine in which they win their home games against each other only.
A good example of the mental dip that Springboks teams perenially suffer Down Under was in 2009 when John Smit’s (almost) all-conquering side beat the British and Irish Lions and then the All Blacks three times, including in a Rugby Championship-clincher in Hamilton, but their one loss that year was in Brisbane to a very average Wallabies team.
It seemed as if the Boks mentally took their foot off the gas for that one match, and too often that has been the case when the South Africans hit Australian soil.
Bok coaches and captains have tried to make sense of the under-performance in Australia and the consensus is that it has nothing to do with conciously under-estimating the Aussies but more a case of on a sub-concious level they don’t quite “get up” for the Wallabies as they do for the All Blacks.
With respect to the Australians, the All Blacks are the Boks’ oldest and most bitter rivals and invariably the Kiwis are the No 1 team in the world to boot, so the Boks will naturally raise their game when they play them.
Of course, the Aussies can offer the exact same reason for their equally poor record in South Africa given their passionate Bledisloe Cup rivalry with the Kiwis...
Also, over the decades of the Tri-Nations and the Rugby Championship, the overseas tour for the Boks has always involved stops in both New Zealand and Australia, and perhaps the Boks have been guilty of playing their “cup final” in New Zealand and not being at quite the same level of intensity in Australia.
But Siya Kolisi’s men now have the opportunity to halt the trend and win in Australia, and on successive weekends to hammer home the point.
And there can be no excuses for poor performances given that they have had unprecedented preparation because they had to get to Australia early due to Covid protocols. That means they have had more than two weeks to acclimatise and overcome jet lag, a bonus that other Boks teams never had.
At their Queensland resort, the Boks have essentially been in a fortnight’s training camp for this match on Sunday. Players that had picked up niggles against the Pumas in Gqeberha — not to mention injuries against the Lions, such as was the case with Faf de Klerk — have had the opportunity to heal.
The Boks surely could not be better prepared and it will now be about producing the mental toughness of genuine champions if they are to tick another box in their bid for true world domination.