Siya Kolisi, the Springbok captain, was taken aback when he learned during an online captain’s media conference on Friday that his team’s No. 1 world ranking is on the line in Saturday’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship match against Australia, and he was correct.
While the Boks may theoretically be dethroned by New Zealand and supplanted as the world’s No. 1 team this weekend, it is not a realistic proposition at this time. The All Blacks would have to beat Argentina by over 100 points in the second game in Brisbane on Saturday to replace the Boks at the summit. And the Boks would have to lose against the Wallabies by a huge margin.
While a second consecutive loss on Australian territory, and at a venue where South Africa has only won three times in 15 encounters with the Wallabies since 1956, a loss by the large margin required to dislodge the Boks at the top is implausible.
If the Boks lose on Saturday, the prospect of next week’s 100th game between the Boks and the All Blacks being for the No. 1 spot is more realistic. In reality, regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s match between the Boks and the Wallabies, the two games against New Zealand will determine who finishes the Championship season as the best team in the world.
Kolisi’s main worry right now isn’t the No. 1 ranking, but rather getting his side back on the bus and moving ahead following last week’s tight loss on the Gold Coast.
“I must confess that I was unaware of the global rankings, but winning is all that matters right now. All that counts is that we turn things around from last week and win,” Kolisi added.
“Of course, we want to keep the No. 1 ranking, but that isn’t our priority right now. We simply want to win so that we may return to the competition. Our goal is to win the championship, and if we lose tomorrow (Saturday), we won’t be able to do so.”
Of course, the Boks have been in a similar scenario before, and Kolisi is well aware of that. They won the 2019 Rugby World Cup after coming back from a loss in the initial game, and they recently fulfilled their goal of winning the series by winning the two final tests against the British and Irish Lions.
Kolisi thinks the camp has a sense of resolve rather than desperation as they look to correct what went wrong in last week’s 28-26 loss and get back into the Championship battle.
“What was disappointing was that we knew exactly where we went wrong when we watched the game again. We were disappointed to lose in such a manner, especially because many of the errors we committed were expected in our game,” he explained.
“As a result, it was tough to see it again. We’re a lot more determined now than we were last week. Or perhaps not more determined, but more determined to demonstrate that resolve on the field, because we didn’t do so last week. We’ve put in a lot of effort this week and we know what we need to do.
“I thought the Aussies performed pretty well last week, and I believe we should give them credit for that. But we know we have to be lot better this week than we were last week, and we will,” the Springbok skipper added.
Kolisi acknowledged that the Boks were off their game last week, but he wasn’t convinced he could blame the team’s poor performance on the two-week quarantine they were in leading up to the Gold Coast game.
“It’s wonderful to be out and about this week and be normal, to be able to go to the shops and wander around shopping malls,” Kolisi said. “Being in isolation was difficult, but we were in isolation during the Lions series and it didn’t affect us negatively at the time,” he said.
He also didn’t believe that the fact that the Boks didn’t go into this year’s Championship with the same familiarity with New Zealand and Australian tempo as they did during the Super Rugby period had any bearing.
“I don’t think the fact that we weren’t playing Super Rugby had any bearing on how we played; on the day, we just weren’t at our best. We failed to make 21 tackles and struggled to make dominant tackles. We all know the Aussies played well and controlled the hits when they had the ball in their hands, so it’s up to the individual players to step up and improve on last week’s performance.
“The standard in that game wasn’t the same as it had been for the majority of the Lions series and even against Argentina before we went on tour. Before we complain about anything else, we need to look at that,” he said.