Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
So here’s why Jean de Villiers’s team can genuinely catapult themselves to Springbok folklore this weekend …
1. Because they can
It has got to be a handy bit of motivational information that the Boks earned the necessary five log points to nil the last time they met New Zealand at Ellis Park some nine years ago. With due respect, that particular SA side which prevailed 40-26 (from 10-0 down, too) wasn’t loaded to the gills with Test legends, either … it was simply a day to cherish forever for the likes of Gerrie Britz, Eddie Andrews, Jaco van der Westhuyzen and others who were arguably never going to be 50- or 100-cap icons. This re-emerging Bok side is well-stocked in most positions, skilled and level-headed enough to be able to pull off the tough requirement, while also unlikely to be consumed with a fatal arrogance against the current world champions. The fast, firm Highveld surface also suits their very specific purpose in this fixture. High-scoring Tests are common at Ellis Park.
2. Because they believe they can
Desire is something that Heyneke Meyer clearly inspires in his charges better than, say, post-isolation predecessors like Harry crumple-that-script-and-try-again Viljoen or Rudolf let’s-keep-ringing-the-changes Straeuli. Pride in the blazer, tie and jersey is a non-negotiable for the coach, who is never afraid to talk of “putting our bodies on the line” and “making the country proud”. The consistent faith he is showing in players seems to be paying dividends: the ambitious Boks are a team on the up and the class of 2013 don’t seem over-awed by any opponents. Yes, even after the much-debated 29-15 reverse at Eden Park, I believe that applies to the All Blacks as well.
3. Ellis Park will be so pro-Boks that the haka will barely be audible
Whatever the outcome – and remember that with SA forced to gamble to a good degree, the risk of a party-spoil by the New Zealanders does exist – the All Blacks already know they are going to be hit hard. Any faint-hearted folk in their ranks will be quickly flushed out. And that’s not just by an urgent Bok outfit: the visitors’ mental resolve will be tested to the limit by the traditionally noisy, hostile, cutting-edge crowd at the venue that reeks of Klippies plus Jo’burg’s ever-present whiff of gasoline and gun-smoke. Anyone expecting a reverent silence during the haka? Not me. There’s also a rumour doing the rounds that a coach-load of All Black-partial fans from the Western Cape have developed untimely engine trouble outside De Doorns …
4. Nigel Owens is not Romain Poite
South Africa have no special reason to fear the Welshman’s influence with the whistle. Although he comes from the near-unpronounceable Welsh village of Mynyddcerrig, he speaks relatively plain English, which is a good start. The Boks have won six of their nine Tests he’s taken charge of, including two of three against the All Blacks, and there have been no infuriating SA grievances a la Bryce Lawrence, Paul Honiss or the aforementioned Monsieur Poite. Here’s praying that doesn’t change on Saturday.
5. Bismarck will batter ‘em … legally
They’ve been polishing the brass on the Battleship Bismarck, in preparedness for the muscular hooker’s crack at what the Boks would doubtless prefer to call “redemption” rather than “vengeance” for his unjust red-carding which torpedoed the collective SA hull against these opponents in Auckland recently. You can be sure Du Plessis will be hugely pumped, and hopefully Owens and his co-officials will have taken note that for all his legendary aggression, he is seldom guilty of rank foul play. Expect the Sharks man to hugely aid Francois Louw and company in the battle for vital steals, and be an influential ball-carrier too.
6. Rambo does not play for New Zealand
Sylvester Stallone was born in New York City and is thus eligible for the United States team. Besides, not even Rambo could grapple an Etzebeth to the ground …