A year is a long time in rugby and things change much faster than we like to admit. In 2021 we were staring down the historic 100th test between the Springboks and the All Blacks as two of rugby's powerhouses squared off. Both teams were in vastly different spaces too.
In July 2021 the All Blacks had recorded very convincing wins over their neighboring Island sides. They racked up an impressive 102-0 win over Tonga before going back to back over the flying Fijians with commanding 27-23 and 60-13 victories. They were 'firing' and sat in 2nd in the World rankings, all seemed good in the land of the long white cloud.
Back in South Africa, the Springboks had returned from a year long, Covid induced absence on the test arena. They recorded a win over Georgia (40-9). They then set about tackling the British & Irish Lions. A Morne Steyn fairy tale penalty saw the Boks seal a 2-1 series victory and the Springboks were sitting pretty at #1 in the world.
The 100th test between these sides saw the All Blacks get the win with a tight 17-19 score line. A week later and the Boks had won 31-29 keeping with the theme in recent years of exceedingly tight fixtures won by the skin of ones teeth. Looking ahead to the 2022 Rugby Championship and its full steam ahead, neither team is sitting pretty this time around.
The All Blacks arrive on the back of the axing of two of their assistant coaches, and head coach Ian Foster under tremendous pressure. A series loss to Ireland has set the New Zealand media on a frenzy as they watched their side slip to 4th in the rankings, whilst also losing to Ireland at home for the first time, and a series for the first time since 1984. They arrive in South Africa hungry to silence their critics and you can bet on the fact that they will come out firing in Mbombela. Two victories in South Africa will go a long way to easing the pressure they are currently under.
The Boks may seem to be under less pressure than their kiwi foe, but on closer inspection they are also under the microscope. The men in Green & Gold underperformed in spectacular fashion against Wales early this month. Touted as the easiest series of the lot, Wales were predicted to be overpowered with ease and the Bok youngsters set loose once the job had been done. Someone forgot to tell that to Wales though as they came close to humbling us at Loftus, before earing their 1st ever win in SA during their stay in Bloemfontein. Yes the Boks may have won the series in the end, but their game is far from the polished product we know they are capable of.
Jacques Nienaber is under pressure to show himself as a trusted figure at the helm of our beloved Springboks, whilst Ian Foster is desperate for some respite from his growing list of critics. Both teams need to fire in the Rugby Championship, the question now is, who wants it more? The winner of the first test will be drawing a line in the sand, showing that they are here to rule the roost, at least as far as the Southern Hemisphere is concerned.