The incentive of a favourable World Cup draw will motivate the Boks
With plenty of scope for movement among the 12 automatic qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup, the Springboks can ill-afford to drop a match on their three-Test end-of-year tour to Europe.
The World Cup Pool Allocation Draw, which will take place in London on December 3, promises to add extra spice to the upcoming Tests with crucial IRB World Ranking places at stake.
With no year-end Grand Slam up for grabs for South Africa, New Zealand or Australia, this year’s annual European excursions could mistakenly be regarded as nothing more than a matter of national pride.
This, however, is far from the case as the incentive of a favourable draw for the top four teams on the IRB World Rankings will see the leading Test sides jockey for position in the forthcoming weeks with every encounter involving a top-tier nation set to affect the World Cup draw.
As for the 2011 tournament, a succinct, performance-driven format will be in effect that will see each of the 20 teams banded according to strength to ensure evenly matched pools.
In a nutshell, the 12 automatically qualified teams - New Zealand, France, Australia, Wales, Argentina, England, Ireland, South Africa, Tonga, Scotland, Italy and Samoa - will be allocated into the top three bands at the end of the year-end internationals, with each band then being drawn across the four pools.
If the Pool Allocation Draw was to take place today, world champions New Zealand (92.91), Australia (86.37), South Africa (84.69) and England (83.09) would form band one, France (83.03), Wales (82.26),Ireland (79.85) and Argentina (78.63) band two and Scotland (77.97), Samoa (76.23), Italy (76.03) and Tonga (74.79) band three, with the eight teams set to come through the global qualifier process making up bands four and five.
The Springboks, therefore, could not be drawn in the same pool as their great southern hemisphere rivals or old enemy England, who they faced in the pool stage and Final of the 2007 showpiece in France, although they could face Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales, who nearly relegated them into second place in Pool D at last year’s tournament in New Zealand.
The challenge of defeating Ireland, Scotland and England may be less daunting than a home and away Rugby Championship campaign, but the effects of an ever-expanding season has made it increasingly difficult for the Boks to prosper in Europe, so much so that they haven’t achieved a northern hemisphere clean sweep since 2008.
Plagued by injury, hampered by inexperience and sporting just a 44 percent win record, Heyneke Meyer’s charges will find the going especially tough as they travel north for the first time as a unit.
The Jean de Villiers-led Boks are yet to register a win outside the comforts of South Africa and face a tricky opening assignment against a black-clad Ireland at Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
The Irish have injury problems of their own, with captain Brian O’Driscoll and hooker Rory Best ruled out and the availability of stars like Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara and Stephen Ferris in doubt, but they will nevertheless fancy themselves having won three of the four Tests against the Boks on home soil.
As they showed when they claimed a shock 21-17 upset in the teams’ last meeting at Murrayfield in 2010, Six Nations wooden spoonists Scotland cannot be underestimated at home, while England are notoriously tough to topple at Twickenham.
They may have some breathing space ahead of fourth-placed England and fifth-placed Wales, but the Boks will want to eliminate even the slightest possibility of dropping out of the top four and cement their place in band one with a European hat-trick.
World Cup bands:
Band 1 - The four highest ranked directly qualified teams*
Band 2 - The next four highest ranked directly qualified teams*
Band 3 - The final four directly qualified teams*
Band 4 - Oceania 1, Europe 1, Asia 1, Americas 1
Band 5 - Africa 1, Europe 2, Americas 2, Repechage winner
*Directly qualified teams are the teams that finished in the top three of each 2011 World Cup pool.
Rankings points explained: Points exchanges are affected by a team winning by more than 15 points, winning by up to 15 or via a draw. To quash home ground advantage, the hosts are given a three ratings points buffer as they tend to accumulate less points for winning and concede more points for losing.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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