Johannesburg – The battle for the Rugby Cup 2023 will start in earnest in November when the southern hemisphere’s contenders travel to Europe to gauge themselves against the big boys of the north.
With this year’s Rugby Championship now consigned to the record books, South Africa, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand will cast their focus and resolve onto the Home Unions, France and Italy.
The Boks came desperately close to winning the Championship, but inconsistencies in their game plan and game management saw them ultimately fall short of claiming the crown. In retrospect, they were one win away from claiming the title, and will rue slipping up against the All Blacks in Johannesburg and an extremely poor performance against the Wallabies in Adelaide.
They will have to put those disappointments behind them, because from early November, they have a massive task at hand. Ireland awaits on November 5, a week later they face France. The Boks then travel to Italy before finishing their tour off at Twickenham against England on November 26.
Ireland and France are ranked first and second, respectively, by Rugby, while England are fifth.
These three nations will be amongst the favourites to lift the Cup next year in France; and as pointed out by John Smit, this upcoming tour will be the first opportunity to quantify the Boks’ readiness and instil some psychological ascendency a year out of that showpiece event.
“It is a monster tour,” the former Bok captain admitted.
“It is the first sort of punch in a Cup year. It is really the last opportunity to show where everyone stands.
“The world rankings are more mathematically than how things are … The top seven, actually, all have a chance of winning the Cup.”
It might be a mammoth task that stands before Jacques Nienaber and his charges, but Smit – who led the Boks to world cup glory in 2007 – believes that it won’t be the be-all and end-all.
Instead, the 44-year-old, capped 111 times for his nation, reckons that it will be crucial that the Boks learn invaluable lessons, while remaining ambitious in their execution.
“For this current Springbok team,” he opined, “this tour is going to be incredibly important.
“I don’t think it is vital to have a clean sweep and smash everyone, but I do think we need to knock off one or two of the ‘big three’ and be competitive in all of our matches. The last thing we need is to be blown away by a contender from the north.
“France away is going to be massive because they are contenders for the (world cup) title at home. England are always competitive and there is always a massive amount of niggle between these two squads over the last three years.
“Ireland are right up there and you’d expect that will be the toughest task of the three. I would hate my livelihood to be dependent on beating Ireland, England and France at the moment.”
Smit made his comments on Thursday at the announcement of the Hollywood Foundation’s sponsorship of the Under-15 iQhawe Week. The event has been organised by the SA Rugby Legends – of which Smit is a member – in conjunction with various stakeholders, including the Gauteng provincial government, the City of Johannesburg and SA Rugby.
The iQhawe week will be held at the Johannesburg Stadium next week, starting on October 3.