All Blacks-Springboks opener won't decide World Cup

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    10 Oct 2018     Getty Images

It is the opening game, not the final. That's the line from South African journalist Gavin Rich.

"It is true the Boks will have to play the All Blacks in Japan next year in a pool game. But since when did a pool stage game become a knockout fixture?

"The Boks can lose to New Zealand in September and then, with a bit of admittedly unlikely help from others, they can beat another sequence of teams to win the World Cup in October," he said on

The Springboks won the World Cup in 2007 and didn't play the All Blacks at all. And in the 2015 version they lost a pool game to Japan but then still made the semifinal where they pushed the All Blacks to a two-point margin.

Rich said that comparisons a year out from the World Cup could be applied to South Africa's 2007 success when so much changed in the year between the Springboks beating the All Blacks in Rustenberg in 2006 and the winning of the World Cup.

Many changes in personnel were made, and Rich said that had to be kept in mind when looking towards Japan next year.

There was a lot more water to flow under the rugby bridge before either the All Blacks or South Africa, or any other side, could be sure of just who would be taking the field at the World Cup.

There were many examples of players in the past having to survive the Investec Super Rugby season alone to raise the possibility of changes in teams as a result of injuries.

Rich said there were also many examples in World Cup history of late changes which had a significant effect on the outcome of the event.

"One of the players who starred for the All Blacks in the tight 2011 final [Stephen Donald] was away on a fishing trip just days before that game, Hennie le Roux moved to centre to accommodate Joel Stransky at flyhalf at the start of the 1995 World Cup, and Michael Catt's appearances at inside centre for the England team that won in 2003 were also not the product of long-term planning," he said.

"Yes, Loftus is a huge game, but building it up as a World Cup dress rehearsal is to ignore the twists of fate and the peaks and troughs of personal performance, plus the tendency of some coaches to second guess themselves when the pressure arrives, that invariably subvert or redirect the discourse when the World Cup year arrives," he said.