The Springboks head into the final match of their 2017 Rugby Championship campaign with a modest ambition.

The All Blacks have already secured the title — their fifth in six seasons — with a round to spare. The Wallabies, who trail the Boks by three points in the standings, are favourites to beat Argentina in Mendoza this weekend and to finish the tournament in second place. Nobody should be betting on this Bok side to stun the All Blacks at Newlands and to finish the competition as runners-up.

Indeed, the Boks would do well to avoid another substantial beating at the hands of their traditional foes. Coach Allister Coetzee admitted as much in the wake of the team’s disappointing 27-27 draw with Australia in Bloemfontein last week. The Boks will need to play out of their skins just to keep the All Blacks honest.

Coetzee’s charges sustained what was then a record 57-15 loss to the All Blacks in Durban last year. More recently, the Boks suffered an even worse defeat — their heaviest test loss so far — when they went down 57-0 to the New Zealanders in Albany.

Saturday’s match at Newlands may well highlight the gap that exists between SA and NZ rugby. The SA teams lost 13 of their 15 regular season matches against NZ opposition in the Super Rugby tournament this year. The All Blacks handed the Boks a physical as well as a tactical lesson in the most recent match-up in Albany. The hosts scored eight tries and conceded zero in that clash. Those stats served as a damning indictment of the Boks’ defence and attack.

Coetzee has obliged with a stream of excuses in recent weeks. He has reminded all and sundry about the NZ system that puts the interests of the national team ahead of the interests of the franchises and provinces. In SA, of course, the opposite is true, with the tail wagging the dog. Coetzee has highlighted the Boks’ injury problems as well as the lack of depth in certain positions. At no point, however, has he accepted responsibility for the current situation.

With better planning and an approach favouring SA’s traditional strengths — the Boks have beaten the All Blacks in the past when they’ve dominated up front and stifled the opposition’s momentum via an aggressive defensive strategy and pinpoint kicking game — the team may have been more competitive in 2017. They may have given fans reason to hope for a different outcome at the 2019 World Cup. The Boks will face the All Blacks during the pool phase of that tournament.

The frightening truth about the All Blacks is that they are not even operating at full strength. They went into the clash against the Boks three weeks ago without senior players of the calibre of Ben Smith, Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Israel Dagg. More recently, the All Blacks went to Argentina without those players as well as Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane
and Liam Squire, yet scored five tries for a 36-10 win.

The safe bet is on an All Blacks win at Newlands on Saturday. With several key players returning after a two-week rest, one would expect the Kiwis to claim the try-scoring bonus point and to finish the tournament with six wins and 29 log points (out of a possible 30). Once again, this Bok side may struggle to come away from the biggest contest on their test calendar with their dignity intact.

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