The All Blacks have been quite flattering towards the Springboks ahead of their Rugby Championship fixture in Wellington on Saturday. In fact, it’s bordered on patronising.
Following gracious praise by backs Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams towards their South African counterparts earlier in the week, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rather surprisingly said on Thursday the Springboks were favourites to win the clash at the Westpac Stadium.
Why have the All Blacks gone out their way to take the honey brush, dip it and swipe it across the lips of Rassie Erasmus and his Springboks team?
This All Blacks team has a lot of humility, and they don’t often boast about their standing in the game, but come on guys, this is rather cringe worthy.
The last time the South Africans played the All Blacks on New Zealand soil, they were thumped 57-0 in Albany although they did manage to salvage some pride with 25-24 defeat a couple of weeks later in Cape Town.
The Boks haven’t beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009, when they lifted the Tri-Nations by beating the men in black three times in succession.
The All Blacks, on the other hand, have won their past nine matches and look unstoppable. They beat Argentina in their previous match by 22 points, even though they weren’t at their best and Los Pumas produced one of their best performances since the start of the Rugby Championship.
But still Hansen sees no problem in anointing the Boks as the favourites. It’s almost like he wants to get the betting odds up so his mates can make some money.
“The last one [Springboks vs. Australia] could have gone either way; they should probably be the favourites, I reckon,” Hansen said with a straight face.
“We know that South Africa are going to be desperate to put a performance on the park. Very rarely do they lose twice in a row, let alone three times in a row.
“You’ve got to have the mindset which is that of the underdog. If you sit at the top and say ‘we’re going good here’, you won’t be there for too long.
“It’s unclear if Hansen was sincere or attempting to wind up the South Africans, who have been rather lacklustre in their past two matches, to at least give his team a bit of workout in Wellington. But the Springboks can’t even catch a pass at this point, never mind sarcasm from the opposition coach.
It’s not the first time that Hansen has claimed the underdog tag. Last month in the lead up to a Bledisloe Cup match against Australia, he also said the Wallabies were the favourites to win before comfortably clinching the trophy for yet another year.
It’s unclear why Hansen goes to the lengths he does to cosy up to the opposition.
But rather than it coming across as polite, it seems like he having a laugh.
Unfortunately, if it is indeed a joke, it’s unlikely to backfire because a snowball has got a better chance surviving hell than the Boks have of beating the All Blacks in Wellington. And that is no laughing matter.
However, if by some miracle of miracles the Boks do win on Saturday, Hansen will have his excuse ready to go.