Dublin is D-Day for Boks
The All Blacks Test at Newlands was never going to define the Springboks’ season. It was a very important match for the South Africans because it was about restoring faith and belief within the team, their support base and their investors.
The Springboks, brave and heroic in defeat, won the hearts of rugby fans in South Africa and abroad. The world champion All Blacks applauded the Springboks and described the Test as their toughest of the season - tougher yes than any of the three played against the British and Irish Lions.
The praise would have made South African rugby supporters feel half decent about the team again; possibly even feel good about them.
But, and there’s always a but when it comes to professional sport, the Springboks still lost. So the euphoria should be tempered. The Springboks, having grown a few extra arms and legs, exceeded every expectation at Newlands and still didn’t win.
There is an argument that says it is because of the quality of the opposition and there’s another that says it had as much to do with limitations among the Springboks back play.
The Springboks forwards were monsters in every facet and discipline. I doubt you will see a collective Springbok forward effort as imposing, physical and dominant again this year.
Newlands was about those in green and gold playing for their honour and their international futures. It was once-off mongrel stuff. It was about survival - and they certainly survived the challenge.
What awaits now is how the team shapes without a home crowd that added 15 points to the potency of the Springboks.
Newlands, the atmosphere electric even if the actual stadium experience was on the opposite extreme, provided a platform and environment for the Springboks that they won’t get overseas.
It’s been written by many that Albany, New Zealand was the exception for the Springboks and that Newlands last Saturday was also the exception, and that the true strength of the current Springboks is somewhere in between.
If you subscribe to this theory - and I certainly do - then the most defining game of the season will be in Dublin against Ireland on November 11.
The Springboks win that Test and they’ll be unbeaten for the tour and 2017 can be considered a success. They lose that Test and the wheels can quickly come off, with France then a very different proposition at home in November than they were in South Africa in June.
Defeat to Ireland would mean a year in which the Springboks didn’t beat any of the teams ranked higher than them - and that surely is the measure of progress.
Ireland currently are ranked fourth and the Springboks are fifth.
The Boks couldn’t have asked for a tougher tour opener. Ireland in Dublin are a very difficult team to beat. The All Blacks have been pushed in Dublin on their last two visits very much like they were at Newlands. Australia has been beaten and last year Ireland ended England’s 18-Test unbeaten run in Dublin.
It’s going to be huge for the Springboks because there is also an expectation that the Boks should be able to win. Hell, there has to be if the Boks are to break into top three and consistently perform well enough to stay there.
The Springboks in Cape Town showed immense character to run the All Blacks close, but to win overseas will require more than character. This will be a test of their skill as much as what is in their hearts.
Allister Coetzee won four from 12 Tests in 2016. His Springboks won five in succession this season but haven’t had a win in their last four Tests. And no, a draw is not a victory. Coetzee’s Springbok record now stands at 9 from 21.
Defeat to Ireland would make it five matches without a win for the Springboks, which would then mean Coetzee’s coaching report card is 40 percent!
Victory is so a must for the Springboks and this time they are going to have to do it without the incredible crowd support at Newlands.
Are they good enough to beat Ireland?
Of course they are, but they are going to have to find something more effective, in selections and strategy, among the backs to leave Dublin with a victory.
There was lots of love for the Springboks after the narrow defeat to the All Blacks. The South African rugby public showed kindness and maturity in recognizing the effort against the All Blacks.
But a close defeat against Ireland simply won’t cut it, which is why the Springboks season - and possibly Coetzee’s tenure - will be determined against Ireland.
Dublin, quite frankly and rightly, is D-Day.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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