Former Springbok World Cup winner and Ulster captain Johann Muller believes the Autumn Internationals will be an important criterion ahead of next year’s World Cup.
he reigning world champions, whose schedule after lifting the Webb Ellis in Yokohama three years ago was decimated by the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, face Ireland for the first time in five years today. today as part of what will be a grueling four week tour.
With today’s game against Andy Farrell’s men sure to be repeated at next year’s World Cup, the Boks travel from Dublin to Paris, where they meet Six Nations winners France in this which could be a preview of the quarter-finals.
Matches against Italy, where they first lost in 2016, and England at Twickenham complete the month-long trip.
And Muller, who won the contest in 2007, believes future games will reveal how those involved prepare ahead of the world showpiece.
“These Autumn Internationals will give us a really good idea of where we are as South Africans and sides in the northern hemisphere,” he said.
“Going into a World Cup year, I think South Africa have an incredibly tough tour. Playing Ireland, the No.1 team in the world, France, the Six Nations winners, the England is a tough, tough, tough tour.
“If they can get a few wins under their belt against tough opponents on this tour, it will give them a lot of confidence going into the World Cup next year.
“But if they lose to Ireland, lose to France, lose to England, then there are a lot of question marks around the Springboks’ setup at this stage.
“In four weeks I think we’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen at next year’s World Cup.
“It’s not entirely pessimistic and bad news if we lose these internationals, but I think we can see exactly where we are after these autumn internationals.”
Muller believes the feeling of uncertainty surrounding the national team stems from such inconsistency in the rugby league over the past two seasons.
In this summer’s competition, South Africa held on to their title hopes until the final round of the competition, but ultimately couldn’t propel the All Blacks to the crown despite their two games against Ian’s men Foster played at home.
South Africa overcame the side still reeling from a series loss to Ireland in Mbombela, but were easily beaten a week later at Ellis Park.
A third round against the Wallabies in Adelaide left them a mountain to climb and eventually they would lose to New Zealand on points difference.
“There are mixed emotions about the Springboks at this stage,” said Muller, who earned 24 Test caps and spent the last four years of his career with Ulster before retiring in 2014.
“At certain stages, we are just phenomenal. The way we played against the All Blacks (in Mbombela) in the Tri-Nations, or the Rugby Championship as it is today, was amazing to watch.
“But then we lose the second at Ellis Park which was a huge disappointment.
“Then we go to Australia and, without being mean, we lose to a bad Australian team, but we beat them the week after.”
However, Muller does not rule out that Jacques Nienaber’s team will imitate the All Blacks and become only the second team to retain the World Cup.
“As I said, it’s mixed emotions about the Springboks at this stage,” he reiterated.
“If they pick the right side, the right side, people who are fit, there’s no reason why we can’t be in the last four for sure, runners-up or even win the World Cup again. .
“I really believe that, but we have to choose the right people.”