South Africa will open their 2013 Rugby Championship campaign determined to improve on their last meeting with Argentina when they were held to a 16-16 draw by the tournament newcomers.
While there is certainly no shame in failing to beat an uncompromising Pumas side making their home debut in the Championship, the result is relevant because it accurately reflects the Springboks’ unconvincing form over the last year.
Heyneke Meyer’s side may have won their last six matches—three last autumn in Europe and three at home this summer—but the reality is that they are still some way off reaching the standards expected of a demanding public still hankering back to the feats of the all-conquering 2007 World Cup-winning side.
Indeed, had it not been for a couple of contentious decisions in their summer clash with Scotland, the visitors would likely have recorded their first win on South African soil.
The Springboks were also held to a 14-14 draw at home last summer by an inexperienced England side and lost to New Zealand (twice) and Australia in the inaugural Rugby Championship. This year's Championship promises to be even more challenging due to the current size of the Boks' injury list.
Despite their strength in depth, South Africa have failed to properly replace the likes of John Smit, Victor Matfield, Percy Montgomery, Os du Randt and Bakkies Botha.
They also have missed the services of inspirational flanker Schalk Burger, now back in training after missing the whole of 2012 but still unavailable for the upcoming Rugby Championship along with a host of other absentees.
To give a timeline is quite difficult... I certainly don't want to over-commit.
The good news is that I can start to train properly and get the heart-rate up. That, in itself, is exciting news and I look forward to increasing my training schedule over the next few weeks with the help of the strength and conditioning team at WP Rugby. We will then reasses things again in a month's time.
The latest addition to the Boks' injury list is the Bulls' livewire scrum-half-cum-wing Francois Hougaard, who misses the rest of the season with a knee injury.
As Brendan Nel of Supersport reports, Hougaard joins a list long enough to concern even the most confident Boks fans.
Other players who will miss out are injured Pierre Spies, Arno Botha, Frans Steyn, Frans Malherbe and Pieter-Steph du Toit. JP Pietersen and Andries Bekker are also not available as they have commitments at their Japanese clubs and therefore won’t be selected.
After an outstanding Super 15 career with the Bulls and Stormers, it looks likely the Springboks' all-time leading try-scorer Bryan Habana will also be unavailable for the Rugby Championship after joining French giants Toulon.
The Boks will miss Habana's devastating speed as well the experience of a player who boasts Rugby World Cup and Super Rugby titles on his outstanding resume.
Any suggestions the 30-year-old may be past his best can be dismissed with this superb finish against the All Blacks last year.
Some good news is that their star performer from last year's Rugby Championship, No. 8 Duane Vermeulen, is back in training with Western Province after a serious knee injury and should be available for selection.
The Boks will need all the help they can get if they are to improve on last year's third place in the standings with just two wins from six games.
South Africa 2013 Rugby Championship Schedule
Aug. 17 v Argentina (Soweto)
Aug. 24 v Argentina (Mendoza)
Sept. 7 v Australia (Brisbane)
Sept. 14 v New Zealand (Auckland)
Sept. 28 v Australia (Cape Town)
Oct. 5 v New Zealand (Johannesburg)