Congratulations to the Wallabies on a famous victory over the All Blacks at the weekend and wrapping up the Rugby Championship. Congratulations too to Argentina for a famous victory over South Africa in Durban.
The bad news, if history is anything to go by, is that this victory means Australia will not win the Rugby World Cup in October. Every winner of the Tri-Nations Tournament, the precursor to the Rugby Championship, in a World Cup year has failed to go on and win the World Cup. In 1999 New Zealand won the Tri-Nations and Australia won the World Cup, 2003 New Zealand won the Tri-Nations and England the World Cup, in 2007 New Zealand won again but South Africa lifted the World cup and in 2011 Australia were victorious and New Zealand regained the World Cup.
This time around the only thing that seems certain is that South Africa will not win the World Cup. Heyneke Meyer has made the same mistake that England made four years after winning the World Cup, but eight years after South Africa won, and that is hanging onto players past their use-by-date.
Sadly for South African fans too many of the players being picked by Meyer should no longer being taking the field for South Africa and one wonders how their ageing bodies will cope in the pressure cooker environment of a World Cup.
In 2007 England selected 10 players from their victorious World Cup side from 2003 and credit to them they managed to scrape their way to another final. In 2011 there were still five players left in the squad. They bowed out in the semi finals.
After winning in 2007 South Africa incredibly selected 18 players from that winning side in their 30 man squad for 2011 and they too bowed out in the semi finals. Of the current crop of players that Meyer has been picking there are still 10 players from the 2007 squad in his team make-up, eight years on!
In international rugby that is simply far too many to have any hope of lifting the World Cup.
New Zealand have used 14 of their 30 man squad from the 2011 World Cup when they were victorious, in the various squads picked by coach Steve Hanson in 2015. He has used 41 players in all, and one wonders how many of those 14 will in fact be used at the World Cup.
When Jake White assembled his Springbok squad for 2007 he only kept 8 players from the ill-fated 2003 campaign. He brought back controversially former Captain Bobby Skinstad. His reasoning was that he needed to give his top line players a game off in the tournament, and he needed a leader to keep the reserves focussed for the time when they would be required to play. Steve Hanson one feels will have a similar plan with the All Blacks, and that is why we may see the likes of Kevin Mealamu and/or Dan Carter included in the squad; although Carter based on current form may well miss out.
South Africa and Heyneke Meyer one feels has now left it too late to bring in players who deserved a place in his World Cup squad. You do not want to be giving players debuts at World Cups, you also want them to have experienced playing against the top sides in the world before playing them in a major tournament. This was again something that Jake White worked on in the two years leading into the World Cup. In fact he stated that the Tri-Nations meant nothing in the World Cup year, apart from giving his more inexperienced players game time against the All Blacks and Wallabies.
South African fans may have taken the defeat against Argentina a little better if they had been able to see a long term plan evolving, but unfortunately there doesn’t appear to have been one. Meyer has opted to stick with the tried and tested rather than re-generate and one feels it will cost him dearly in England.
The All Blacks will always be in with a shout as they have depth, and this defeat against the Wallabies may well have been just what the team needed and what coach Hanson needed to help finalise his squad. Certainly this weekend he will expect a better performance and will definitely have a clearer idea of his final squad.
Can Australia buck the Tri-Nations or Rugby Championship curse? In allowing overseas players to return and wear the green and gold suddenly the bench is far stronger than in the past. The quality of the players coming off the bench now gives coach Michael Chieka alternatives that he lacked in the before. There looks to be a good spirit in the team and a great belief. The win over the All Blacks will have done the morale of the team the world of good, but it is crucial they back that up this weekend in New Zealand or it may well have all been for nought.
Australia should make the semi finals in England, but the key word will be discipline. Sometimes certain players let the team down due to ill-discipline. In a World Cup more than ever it is vital that you keep fifteen players on the pitch, and if Australia lose their discipline it could cost them dearly.
Not long to go now, can the Southern Hemisphere continue its dominance? Now that is a big question. Watch out for my dark horse Ireland.