Springboks: 2013 review
Heyneke Meyer's plan seems to be coming together nicely. Second place in the Rugby Championship, second place in the world rankings and the second most tries scored this year (amongst Tier One nations). Just two loses in twelve games this year.
Not bad at all.
But the key word in all those accomplishments is 'second'. The Springboks want to be number one. 2013 has shown us that the Boks under Meyer's command, playing the way they are, will beat anyone...except the All Blacks.
And that, friends, is the dilemma facing the Springboks and their fans at the moment.
No one can deny the progress made in the last twelve months with regards to tactics and the depth of player resources. The Boks are scoring more tries than ever before and almost every position - bar tighthead prop and outside centre - has at least two outstanding players in line.
In terms of pure grunt, no one can match the Bok pack in full rampage mode and the back row has been particularly impressive. Meyer's favourite soundbite (you can hear at every press conference) has been about players "putting their body on the line for their country" and his men have delivered time and again.
But will pure muscle and solid defence win the World Cup? The All Blacks have shown that no amount of power can beat skill and intelligence.
South Africa have just under two years to close the gap. They won't change their spots overnight and the territorial pressure game will remain the hallmark of their approach, but the addition of the likes of Willie le Roux has brought a new dimension to their attacking prowess.
While 2012 was marked by widespread criticism of their predictable gameplan, the decision-making and ability to attack from broken field has improved in leaps and bounds - as illustrated by the 60-point thrashing of Argentina in Soweto and the historical win over the Wallabies in Brisbane.
There are two potential trouble areas, however, and both concern the set-piece, once considered the Boks' bread and butter. While the scrum is significantly more solid, the limited options in the prop department and the lack of a true line-out leader are concerns.
Likewise the rustiness of the Japanese-based contingent is not ideal. Even if Fourie du Preez was very good for the most part (when available), Jaque Fourie was not his old self and JP Pietersen was solid rather than spectacular.
None of the Northern Hemisphere opposition were able to exploit those chinks in November - no thanks to sub-standard surfaces - as Wales failed to recover from a early blitz, Scotland were simply steamrollered and France, in their worst year in decades, where unable to unlock that formidable defence. It's a shame the Boks didn't play England.
As Meyer starts to plan for 2014, the green and gold machine seems to be on the right track, but can it pick up the pace fast enough to catch their old rivals?
By Ross Hastie