Quintin van Jaarsveld feels the bonus point system puts the Springboks at a distinct disadvantage in the Rugby Championship.
This was confirmed at the weekend when South Africa eased past the Pumas but failed to secure the four-try bonus point. In the context of the demanding new four-nation competition, the 27-6 home victory was bittersweet.
It predictably saw the Springboks finish the opening round at the top of the standings, but by not securing a full-house, they are already a good distance behind the All Blacks, who knocked over the Wallabies in Sydney and will almost certainly claim the full 10 points in their home and away fixtures against Argentina.
The demands of the new competition and the rugby-mad South African supporters are so extreme that winning, it seems, at least in the Rugby Championship, is no longer enough.
The bonus point system has been a contentious issue since its introduction, yet with the exception of the Six Nations, all elite provincial and international Rugby Union competitions has conformed to the times and adopted the spectator-friendly format.
The bonus point incentive is successful in the sense that it separates the good from the great over a period of time, as was the case in the Tri-Nations and will be the case in the Rugby Championship.
However, come World Cup play-off time, order is restored and it comes down to who’s the better team on the day. It should never dictate how a team should approach the game and Heyneke Meyer hasn’t lost sight of this.
The Springboks’ traditionally conservative game plan simply isn’t conducive to the risk-reward format, and it never will be. It inescapably increases the pressure on the two-time world champions whose passionate supporters want to see them transform into an All Black hybrid.
To his credit, the added pressure hasn’t fased Meyer. He sees the bonus point phenomenon for what it is - a mere bonus. His main objective is to win, irrespective of the margin or number of tries scored.
Modern incentives will come along every couple of years to ‘freshen up’ the game, but at the end of the day, the true measure of a team will always be determined by its win-loss ratio, and in this regard, Meyer’s Boks remain unbeaten.
Improve they must - and they will - but it will be on their terms. You can’t fault them for that.
Losing Bismarck du Plessis for the remainder of the year is a major blow for the Boks and will significantly increase the level of difficulty of keeping up with the All Blacks.
Adriaan Strauss’ assured performance would have quelled Meyer’s immediate concerns and it’s a great opportunity for the Cheetahs captain to finally get some quality game time at Test level.
Craig Burden’s call up is simply precautionary and likely for the trip to Mendoza alone, with Chiliboy Ralepelle believed to return from his knee injury after the Argentinean leg of the competition.
Considering there could be a number of injury-enforced changes to the run-on side for Saturday’s return fixture, Meyer could be reluctant to further tweak his team in order to keep a degree of continuity.
It’s unfortunate as there are a number of promising possibilities, the most intriguing of which at eighthman, scrumhalf and wing.
Keegan Daniel was unconvincing in his first Test start and it could be a temporary solution to revert Willem Alberts to the back of the scrum where he first made a name for himself at the Lions until Pierre Spies returns from injury. This would also open up a place for Siya Kolisi to start in his Springbok debut in Mendoza.
It would also be worthwhile to start with Ruan Pienaar at scrumhalf following his impressive cameos off the bench this season, with Francois Hougaard moving to the wing in place of Lwazi Mvovo.
The Sharks flyer failed to deliver while Hougaard found an extra spring in his step and looked lethal once he moved out wide. His skill set, speed and hot stepping is best suited and effective on the wing in the context of the Springboks’ kick-and-chase game plan.
The weekend’s clash is also an ideal opportunity to blood young Elton Jantjies, who’s had to patiently bide his time and watch the likes of Coetzee, Eben Etzebeth, Jacques Potgieter, JJ Engelbrecht and Lions teammate Pat Cilliers make their Bok bows this season.
He deserves to get 10-20 minutes to show his mettle and Saturday is the ideal time to finally give him some game time.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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