Saturday’s test against Wales has more than pride riding on it.
It poses the last realistic chance for the Springboks to move back into the top four of the World Rugby rankings.
When the latest rankings were published yesterday, South Africa had fallen to No 5, their lowest end-of-year ranking since 2003, after losing 20-18 to Italy in Florence on Saturday.
It underlines just how shambolic this season has been.
It was the Springboks’ seventh loss in 11 tests this season, and has seen them fall two places after starting the year ranked third.
Normally, world rankings would not be that important at the end of year, but as it is the last test the Boks will play before the draw for the 2019 World Cup takes place next May, they have no other opportunity to climb back up the ladder.
The teams in the Six Nations all have five more tests to move up.
Wales are sixth, and a win over the Boks could see the two swapping places.
The Welsh would also have an entire Six Nations to play to improve their rankings, and so would Scotland and France, who occupy seventh and eighth place on the rankings.
The reason being in the top four is so vital is that when the draw for the World Cup is done, it eliminates the chance of being pooled in a so-called group of death.
Teams ranked one to four will be top seeds in pools A, B, C and D for the 2019 World Cup. The following four teams in the rankings are slotted in by random draw, followed by the next four and so on.
Based on yesterday’s rankings with New Zealand still top and Argentina having slumped to ninth, in theory the Boks could be drawn in a pool with the All Blacks and Pumas at RWC 2019.
“Every test in important, but yes this match has significance because we could return to the top four if we win,” beleaguered Springbok coach Allister Coetzee said.
“It’s also one of the objectives we had this season – to stay in the top four.
“But my focus is purely on beating Wales this weekend.”
Coetzee, who has not been given the unequivocal backing of his bosses at SA Rugby after losing to Italy, must surely have a performance-related clause in his contract.
By admitting staying in the top four was one of the “objectives” this season, Coetzee gave an insight into at least one of the key performance indicators of his contract.
Following the humiliation in Florence, SA Rugby Union president Mark Alexander said: “We have a minimum target of winning three out of four test matches each season (75%) – which is better than the historical record – but we have not come close this season.”
The winning ratio for this year stands at 36% and even a win over Wales would only take the Boks to 41.6%, which would still be woefully short of the target Alexander admits exists.
Whether victory over Wales will save Coetzee’s job will only become apparent in the coming weeks, but it might save the Springboks from a huge problem at the next World Cup.