Auckland — Winning in New Zealand means going against history’s grain, which is what the Boks have to do to keep their Rugby Championship chances alive.
The Springboks have always been competitive against New Zealand but the Springboks have only won three Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations matches against New Zealand.
Those wins were achieved when the Boks were world champions and had an excellent squad. There was the 13-3 win under Nick Mallett and Gary Teichmann’s astute stewardship in Wellington in 1998.
Then there was the groundbreaking 30-28 win in Dunedin 10 years later where Ricky Januarie conjured up an unforgettable moment of magic.
The 32-29 win in Hamilton the following year was routine by the high standards of the Springboks of that year. The close scoreline did not reflect the Boks’ dominance and Frans Steyn’s accuracy.
Between that night in Hamilton and the British and Irish Lions triumph in the second of three Tests in Wellington two months ago, the All Blacks dominated every team at home. They have not lost to Australia at home since 2001, England since 2003 and France since 2009.
Wales, Ireland and Scotland do not know what it feels like to win in New Zealand.
It is the weight of history, the travelling and the general excellence of New Zealand rugby that has often got in the way of aspiring touring teams.
France remain the only team in the past 25 years to have won a series in New Zealand (1994) while the might of the British and Irish Lions only has a drawn series (2017) to show for their efforts alongside two defeats, in 2005 and 1993. It is probably a good thing the Boks are in Auckland ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash against the familiar enemy at the North Harbour Stadium.
The fact the Boks have been moved to the Northlands outpost was indicative of their diminished status after 2016’s pummellings in Christchurch and Durban.
It speaks volumes about the Boks’ resurgence in 2017 that the All Blacks are speaking of them with high regard.
Steve Hansen’s side has never underestimated the Boks.
This will be their first engagement against the Boks since the 2013 epics and New Zealand will have to be at their best in all departments.
Due to their foolproof succession plans, the All Blacks have their bases covered, allowing them to trust their personnel in injury-enforced absences.
While the Boks will be without Coenie Oosthuizen, who broke his arm in the 23-all draw in Perth, the All Blacks are without their first-choice front rowers in Joe Moody and Owen Franks, which robs the team of 130 caps.
The All Black set piece came under severe pressure in the British and Irish Lions series and while the Bok pack may not be at that level, their improvement means they will ask uncomfortable questions of the All Black pack. However, to beat the All Blacks means every skill has to be mastered, along with a morsel of luck that accompanies getting all the basics right.
The Boks may have their weaknesses but they have displayed enough prowess in their last five matches to have them believing the All Blacks are eminently beatable.
However, that is easier said than done and history has proven that time and again.