The Springboks have taken steps forward in Heyneke Meyer’s second year at the helm, but a gruelling Rugby Championship tour to Australasia over the next fortnight will ascertain the net value of this progress.
The Boks jet off to Brisbane tonight with the tailwind of a perfect record at their backs, having beaten Italy, Scotland, Samoa and Argentina (twice) in succession.
This record will be contextualised by how well South Africa perform against the Wallabies at the Suncorp Stadium (Saturday) and the All Blacks in Auckland (September 14).
At the corresponding stage last season, Meyer’s team had compiled a record of three wins and two draws from a three-Test series against England and home-and-away Rugby Championship clashes with Argentina.
Impressive wins against the Roses at Ellis Park and the Pumas at Newlands were followed by dour stalemates against the same opponents in Port Elizabeth and Mendoza respectively.
What has changed since is that the Boks have honed their ability to complement a strong start with a fast finish.
Meyer’s team reached the half-time break with an advantage in three of their first five Tests last year, but were out-scored by England after the restart in Joburg and Port Elizabeth.
Of the 115 points scored by South Africa in those five matches, 63 were in the first half, and a combined total of 44 points were scored with less than 30 minutes remaining.
Meyer’s team have almost doubled their production this season, scoring 225 points so far, but it’s the jump in second-half numbers that bodes well for the pending tour.
A combined tally of 97 first-half points reflects a 50 percent improvement on last year, the team more than doubled scoring after the break with 128 points, and they have dented the scoreboard in the final 30 minutes of matches this season with almost three times more frequency (118 points).
The 2012 Boks arrived in Perth with high hopes of retaining their unbeaten record.
These hopes, however, were dashed by second-half slumps as Meyer’s team lost three of their next four matches.
South Africa raced into a 13-6 lead in Perth, only to be overhauled by the Wallabies in a 26-19 reverse.
A week later, they were again out-scored 16-8 in the second half of a 21-11 loss against the All Blacks. And New Zealand drove the point home by whitewashing the hosts 20-0 in a 32-16 fightback at the FNB Stadium in October.
It paints a gloomy picture, made even more grim by the fact that South Africa have won just two of 11 Tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane – the last coming in 1971 – and have only twice left Auckland with a smile (1921, 1937) in nine trips to the city.
However, Meyer does have reason to be quietly optimistic – his charges have out-scored their opponents in the second half of every Test this season by a combined margin of 128-38.
They took an early lead against Australia and New Zealand in three of four Tests last year, and if the Boks can dish up more of the same in the coming weeks, with an extra helping of their new-found second-half fortitude, they will return from their travels having defined their progress this year with a rare tour scalp. – Sunday Independent