GAME FOR IT
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