In 301 days, the Springboks start their World Cup campaign against New Zealand in Yokohama.
There’s still a lot of rugby to be played before South Africa take on the back-to-back world champions in their Pool B opener in Japan in 43 weeks time, but there’s not a lot of opportunities left for coach Rassie Erasmus to settle on his combinations, and perfect a style of rugby he is comfortable with ahead of next year’s World Cup.
It’s been a long year but the men in green and gold will have to put their holiday plans on hold for just one more day ahead of an important fixture against Wales in Cardiff tonight.
The Boks haven’t got the better of the Welsh Dragons since their World Cup quarterfinal triumph at Twickenham three years ago. Against Wales they have lost their last three clashes, and four of their last five.
Erasmus’ first year in charge of the national rugby team has seen some highs, but also some disappointing lows. Tonight his team have the chance to finish the year on a high, with three wins on the year-end tour after a controversial near-miss against England in week one of their trip north, followed by victories over France and Scotland.
So why is tonight’s fixture important for Erasmus? A win will see his win percentage improve to 57% in 14 matches in charge. A loss will see that slip to 50%. Both percentages aren’t that great. Their 2018 record won’t exactly strike fear into their opponents ahead of next year’s showpiece.
However, success breeds success, and the Boks look like they are finding their stride after some inconsistent earlier performances. The combinations are coming together, with Erasmus going with the same starting line-up in successive weeks today for the first time since taking over.
In his short time in charge, the only country inside the world’s top nine ranked teams Erasmus has not played is Ireland – probably the Boks’ quarterfinal opponents next year if they fail to beat the All Blacks on September 21. They have beaten and lost to New Zealand, Australia, England and Argentina, while they have recorded away wins over France and Scotland. Their only negative record is a defeat to Wales with a second string outfit in Washington DC in June.
Let’s hope they put that right tonight in Cardiff.