GAME FOR IT

NZ Rugby World Tournament Guide - - CON­TENTS -

South Africa should ease through the gears and charge into the semi­fi­nals...at least.

The Spring­boks have the per­son­nel and game­plan to be con­fi­dent they can com­pete with any team at the World Cup. PATRICK McKENDRY with the story.

THEY AR­RIVE IN ENG­LAND AS..?

Two-time cham­pi­ons and with the knowl­edge that they have a rea­son­ably re­cent vic­tory over the All Blacks un­der their belts. No other na­tion has that back­ground. They will also be con­fi­dent – for those rea­sons and more be­sides.

The de­mo­li­tion job the Boks did on the All Blacks in Jo­han­nes­burg last Oc­to­ber – be­fore the vis­i­tors re-found their mojo only to let it slip at the end – wasn’t even par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing. Their de­feat in Welling­ton a few weeks be­fore could eas­ily have gone the other way. And it was sig­nif­i­cant that there were no re­crim­i­na­tions from coach Steve Hansen at El­lis Park af­ter­wards. He sim­ply said the Boks de­served to win as they were bet­ter on the day, and he was right.

WHAT TYPE OF FOOT­BALL WILL THEY PLAY?

A struc­tured game – set piece, ter­ri­tory, pos­ses­sion. Look out for the li­ne­out drive which will de­stroy a few op­po­si­tion mauls at this tour­na­ment. They will take the points through the boot when on of­fer – both in terms of penal­ties and dropped goals. Their ath­letes are close to the All Blacks in terms of their fit­ness and power but they will rely on their struc­ture and big for­wards to wear teams down.

They are ca­pa­ble of sweep­ing end-to-end at­tacks, but the Boks’ modus operandi is about keep­ing it tight and win­ning the war of at­tri­tion.

ARE THEY SUIT­ABLY MO­TI­VATED?

Of course. They are of­fi­cially ranked as the sec­ond best team in the world be­hind New Zealand, some way ahead of the third-placed Ire­land. They have a proud rugby her­itage and suc­cesses at the 1995 and 2007 World Cups to fall back on, and they will have a pub­lic ex­pect­ing suc­cess. South Africans take this game se­ri­ously – you only have to watch coach Heyneke Meyer singing the an­them and feel­ing each tackle in the coaches’ box to re­alise that. Self be­lief won’t be an is­sue.

DO THEY HAVE ENOUGH PER­SON­NEL DEPTH?

Prob­a­bly not as much as they would like. Their tight for­wards are get­ting older, and al­though there are some out­stand­ing prospects in Su­per Rugby, many are un­tried at test level. They could also do with more op­tions in their back­line, es­pe­cially at first-five, where Han­dre Pol­lard is out on his own, and the mid­field. A lack of true depth is some­thing which could trip them up – es­pe­cially as they have a po­ten­tially de­mand­ing pool match against Samoa to con­sider. In­juries could re­sult.

CAN THEY COPE WITH THE PRES­SURE?

A case could be made for South Africans be­ing the most de­mand­ing sup­port­ers of their sports teams in the world. Look at the mes­sage which came down from their sports min­is­ter be­fore the Proteas cricket team left for New Zealand for the Cricket World Cup last sum­mer: only a tour­na­ment vic­tory would be ac­cept­able. Who knows if that played a part in their re­mark­able de­feat by the Black Caps at Eden Park in the semi­fi­nal when they looked dead certs to win, but it can’t have helped.

The pres­sure on the Boks, there­fore, will be im­mense – sec­ond pos­si­bly to the All Blacks, with Eng­land in the mix too. How­ever, they do have two ti­tles to their name – none have more – so they have done it all be­fore.

WHERE ARE THEIR WEAK­NESSES?

That dogged re­liance on their set piece and struc­ture can be a hin­drance. It makes them pre­dictable and they don’t re­ally have a Plan B if an op­po­si­tion team is steal­ing their li­ne­out ball and beat­ing them up phys­i­cally. New Zealand Su­per Rugby teams have quickly learned that if the South Africans have their bully tac­tics thrown back in their face they have few an­swers. Their out­side backs can be elec­tric but some in­di­vid­u­als can also suf­fer short cir­cuits in terms of their think­ing. In­spi­ra­tional mid­fielder Jean de Vil­liers is also key – if he isn’t play­ing then the Boks are au­to­mat­i­cally a weaker team.

WHAT ARE THEIR KEY STRENGTHS?

Scrum, li­ne­out, goal­kick­ing. As men­tioned, their li­ne­out drive will cause prob­lems. Their loose for­wards are also good. Play­ers such as Duane Ver­meulen, Schalk Burger, Te­boho Mo­hoje and Mar­cell Coet­zee are big, pow­er­ful and quick. There is speed among their out­side backs. They are well coached, well-re­sourced, and the morale within the team will be high.

WHAT PO­TEN­TIAL PROB­LEMS COULD THEY IN­CUR?

Selec­tion is­sues around the quota sys­tem for Black or coloured play­ers could be an is­sue. The South African Rugby Union is not un­fa­mil­iar with crises, and the quota sys­tem, af­ter years of dis­crim­i­na­tion, is a po­ten­tial flash­point. In terms of coach­ing, Meyer has im­proved things since he took over from the un­pre­dictable Peter de Vil­liers, but many of the is­sues are above his head at ad­min­is­tra­tion level.

Another po­ten­tial worry for them is dis­ci­pline. Some of their play­ers are prone to mak­ing poor de­ci­sions in terms of foul play – and that’s putting it mildly. This sea­son the Sharks, fed up with see­ing their best play­ers – Bis­marck du Plessis, Frans Steyn and Jean Dey­sel – pun­ished with lengthy bans by the ju­di­ciary de­cided that those sus­pended for foul play would get a pay cut. Red cards in World Cup knock­out matches are po­ten­tially fa­tal for teams’ hopes.

DO THEY HAVE A STRONG ENOUGH LEAD­ER­SHIP TEAM?

Yes, they have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in their line-up, in­clud­ing the ex­cel­lent de Vil­liers, and hooker du Plessis. Their lead­er­ship team will be ex­cel­lent. They also have some good prospects com­ing through such as first-five Pol­lard, who tore the All Blacks apart in Jo­han­nes­burg last year, but hasn’t reached the same heights since. He is such a tal­ent for the South Africans – a steady head com­bined with flair – but the worry for the neu­tral ob­server is that he is be­ing turned into a Morne Steyn clone, a ro­botic-type player con­cerned mainly with kick­ing the ball out of hand or from the tee. One hopes he can re­tain his free spirit be­cause that’s what the Boks des­per­ately need.

WORLD CLASS: Duane Ver­meulen is a bril­liant player.

NEW BREE D: Han­drie Pol­lard is a dif­fer­ent sort of player to

his pre­de­ces­sors.

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