Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Steven Hansen: 'South Africa will get it right soon, then look out'

The gap between the All Blacks and the chasing pack will close.

It doesn't necessarily feel like that now and, by the end of the test in Christchurch, it may feel even less like that.

Recent history says there's unlikely to be more than one try separating the All Blacks and Springboks when the final whistle blows.

The All Blacks may be well in front, as long as they can stand up to the inevitable physical onslaught they will face, because they have the superior skills and organisation to stretch away with a degree of comfort.

Knowing which marker to trust - form or history - is difficult. Adding to the complexity is the emotional state of the Boks. They are getting desperate.

They need to start delivering performances that show they are at least settling on a gameplan that everyone - coaching staff and players - are buying into.

As a consequence, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is going with history. He knows the pride within the Boks and knows they are stacked with experienced test performers such as Eben Etzebeth, Francois Louw, Adriaan Strauss and Bryan Habana.

There are a few new and emerging faces in there, too, who give the Boks a bit of an unknown dimension - some energy and enthusiasm. To underestimate them would be a terrible mistake and not one the All Blacks are likely to make.

But history might be a better long-term rather than short-term guide. The Boks, like the Wallabies, have so much to fix and develop that it's hard to see them winning tomorrow night.

South Africa need to find a style that works for them under coach Allister Coetzee. They need to build their experience and leadership in the wake of a post-World Cup exodus and need to build their confidence in themselves and each other.

History says they will get there. Whatever problems they have now, they will fix them and their demise is by no means permanent.

"Maybe that has been part of their problem so far, they are not sure how to play," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. "Because most of the side is from the Lions and there is a certain style South Africa play and it is bruising, physical and reasonably direct. The Lions don't play like that.

"When you come to mould your team, sometimes it takes a little while to get them to where you need them to be because you are changing the style and I am not sure which one of those styles Allister wants to play. They will get it right one of these days soon and, when they do, look out."

The question is how much time it's going to take and, while they will certainly make up ground on the All Blacks, can they develop to the point where they regularly beat New Zealand?

It's not just South Africa asking that question. Australia must be wondering the same thing.

There's no question they will improve and develop greater cohesion and confidence in the next month or so to the point that they will be a significantly different side to the one they were in August when they come to Eden Park for the final Bledisloe test of the year.

Both the Boks and Wallabies can legitimately argue that one of the key differences between them and the All Blacks is experience and leadership. New Zealand were able, through Hansen's astute management, to build a continuity plan between 2012 and 2015.

They knew they were going to lose senior players after the World Cup so used them to mentor the likes of Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles so, come 2016, New Zealand weren't rebuilding.

"This year we talked about re-establishing this group rather than rebuilding because I struggled with the word rebuilding when, for example, Sam Cane has played 30 tests and captained the side once," says Hansen. "So he is not rebuilding, he is just re-establishing himself in the team and there are a number of guys like that."

The All Blacks have been able to seamlessly transition from one era to the next. The Boks and Wallabies haven't. They are playing catch-up in an area they can feel confidence about making up ground.

But once they start to build a wider group who can better handle the mental and physical demands of test football, will that in itself be enough to beat the All Blacks?

This is what must be troubling them and England, judging by coach Eddie Jones' comments this week that the All Blacks have significant flaws. Teams can build experience and leadership, but will they be able to emulate the all-round skill level and composure of the All Blacks? Will they be able to produce tight forwards who can pass under pressure, win turnovers and yet hold the scrum rock steady?

The likes of South Africa and Australia will close the gap on the All Blacks in the coming months, but the chances are high there will still be a gap.

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