All Blacks need a strong Springbok team to validate them.

My great friend Mike Greenaway has been fortunate to cover many of South Africa’s post-isolation Test matches in New Zealand and have learned beyond any shadow of doubt that the Kiwi rugby public loves nothing better than a strong Springbok team visiting their shores.

He recalls being in 2005 being in Dunedin for the match between John Smit’s defending Tri-Nations champion team and the All Blacks at Carisbrook, and at stake was the crown. The team that won that match would win the Tri-Nations.

It was a week of feverish excitement in Dunedin. The old rivalry had been revived and gripped the “Edinburgh of the South”, as the icy city is known because of its strong Scottish ancestry. On the morning of the match, the Otago Daily Times carried this headline across its back page: “Welcome back Boks – we have missed you”.

This was a reference to that dreadful period in the Springbok-All Blacks rivalry where the South Africans went missing in action. After having beaten the Kiwis in the third-place play-off at the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Cardiff, the Boks then lost eight in a row to the All Blacks, including the infamous 16-52 humiliation at the (former) fortress of South African rugby, Loftus Versfeld, in 2003.

South Africa won the Tri-Nations the next year in their first campaign under Jake White and Smit and, although they did not win in New Zealand, there was a sound drought-breaking triumph at Ellis Park, and in the next match between the sides, the following year, the Boks were resounding winners at Newlands.

Which brought them to Dunedin for the return match and the Kiwis were indeed thrilled that there was again a genuine contest between their team and their old foe. There was a column by a veteran journalist who recalled how as a youth he had woken up in the early hours when the All Blacks were touring South Africa and with his dad had listened to the radio commentary that told of these monstrous Springboks that were dominating Test after Test, and he wondered at the time if they could ever be beaten.

Indeed, in the pre-isolation era, the Boks beat the All Blacks more often than they lost, although there was not too much in it. In 1992, before the isolation-breaking Test between the countries at Ellis Park, the Boks were up 20-17 in Tests between the countries.

Sadly, that positive record was quickly overturned in the professional era. The All Blacks had moved up to another level following the Boks’ isolation following that tremendous series between the teams in 1981, which should have ended in a drawn rubber had it not been for the shameless interfering of Welsh referee Clive Norling – who to this day knows better than to set foot in South Africa – in the infamous “flour bomb” Test at Eden Park.

The All Blacks won that Test with a late penalty by fullback Alan Hewson after a penalty contrived by Norling. Incidentally, that 2005 Test in Dunedin lived up to expectation and the All Blacks won that match (and the Tri-Nations) with a late try by hooker Keven Mealamu.

In general, though, the Boks have been inconsistent against the All Blacks post their 1995 Rugby World Cup final triumph. In 40 matches since 1996, the All Blacks have won 28 and the Boks just 12, with only three wins on New Zealand soil in 17 years of annual visits.

That is why New Zealand gets so excited when a strong Springbok team visits, as is the case this week. The reports out of New Zealand clearly indicate that the country is once more seized with rugby fever.

The reason is because the All Blacks need a strong Springbok team to validate them. They routinely beat everybody, give or take France occasionally upsetting them in World Cups and the Wallabies once in a while providing a Bledisloe Cup upset.

However, it is the Boks that still have that historic ability to render the All Blacks human when they are seemingly unbeatable. The Kiwis know it and they would rather have that competition than not.

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About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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