Of real concern for me was that the Pumas, a team renowned for their ability to ruck and maul and not right up there among the nations you would consider to have consistent attacking flair, managed to run in four tries.
It is a mark of how their rugby has grown and even though they were once ranked third in the world after beating the French 34-10 in the play-offs for third and fourth at the Parc des Princes in the 2007 World Cup, a ranking they haven’t really come close to since then, they managed to beat the Wallabies in Mendoza during last year’s Rugby Championship and the Boks in this year’s foreshortened campaign.
The Pumas go to England for next month’s global showpiece ranked eighth and, rightly to my way of thinking, the rugby authorities have decided that instead of immediately establishing the four teams to top the pools the next time the Webb Ellis Cup is contested once the final is over, they will hold off for a year. This makes sound sense.
Once a World Cup is over, players move on or retire and the overall picture takes on an entirely new perspective. These inescapable changes have, by their very nature, a massive influence on a coach’s thinking and the direction he has to take to mould a new squad. This invests the first postWorld Cup year with a new depth in the influence the rankings will have on the next competition.
It also means that no side can afford to field an understrength, or B side, and certainly no one will be able to pick the bench for an end-of-year tour at the start of the next four-year cycle. Doing this will come with consequences. I have said before that it is almost impossible for any national coach to send out exactly the team he wants on the field, but he can no longer afford to experiment on a broad scale in the year after a World Cup.
But ultimately, it is the responsibility of the coach to decide who among his first-choice big guns to rest, who to play and to experiment with combinations that might take some time to mature. But you have to understand that the month leading up to a World Cup is not the time to experiment or be indecisive.
I think Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has tried to copy too many other coaches and what they are doing instead of following his own thought pattern and staying true to himself. Stability and consistency are important factors in building a cohesive squad and these are prime compents in building a winning combination.
And never underestimate how important winning is to any team – or the negative effect of carrying a losing streak into rugby’s global showpiece.