AWAY ANY IDEAS OF THROWING ANY GAMES
Deliberately losing a game, as some fans have suggested, would be dangerous. Best to play it safe and beat all seven teams
There is no easy way to win the rugby World Cup and this year the task is going to be harder than anything the Boks have attempted before. Whereas it used to be said that only five countries have a genuine shot at taking the Webb Ellis Cup, the numbers at the top have swollen.
In previous World Cups, you looked no further than the three powerhouses of the south – New Zealand, South Africa and Australia – and the leading two of the north – England and France – to divine a possible winner. However, the race is going to be much tighter in England this year.
Ireland, now ranked second in the world, have come on in leaps and bounds, and Wales have been on an intense training exercise in an attempt to prove that they can escape from Pool A.
Pool A from the get-go has been termed the pool of death because it also contains the hosts, England, plus Australia – both previous winners.
The group is completed by Fiji and Uruguay, but it is interesting that an expert observer such as former Wallaby George Smith believes the islanders have it in them to shock the big three.
Samoa, who are in Pool B with South Africa, recently ran the All Blacks close and, in Pool C, Los Pumas would have taken great heart from having recently defeated the Springboks.
Jake White, who led South Africa to victory in France in 2007, believed in a simple mantra: “You win seven matches, you win the World Cup.”
What White meant was that each team faces a total of seven games – four in the pool stage and three in the knockout stages. And the easiest way to claim the Webb Ellis Cup is simply to win all seven – that way there can be no glitches.
Naturally, there have been upsets – such as France scraping through to the final in 2011 in spite of losing two pool matches, but as White was fond of saying: “Why leave anything to chance?”
By studying the match schedule, the Springboks’ optimum route is easy to plot.
They have to win their pool to reach the quarterfinals as the winners of Pool C.
The Boks’ toughest games will be Samoa in Birmingham and Scotland in Newcastle.
If they emerge unscathed, their last-eight game will be against the runners-up in Pool A – any of England, Australia, Wales and Fiji.
Win that and they’re slated to meet the All Blacks in the semifinal, and if they manage to slay their nemesis, the final will be against the top team emerging from the other side of the draw – shaping up as England, Australia, France or Ireland.
There have been suggestions that the Springboks should “throw” one of their games in the pool to try to avoid New Zealand in the semis.
Not only is this a dangerous mind-set to get into – one that just does not fit with the Bok psyche – but if it should happen that South Africa are the runners-up in Pool B, their quarterfinal opponents would still be either England, Australia, Wales or Fiji – ie, the winners of Pool A.
Better to just adopt White’s maxim and win all seven!
TOUGH Springbok winger Bryan Habana runs away from Kieran Read of New Zealand. The two nations are likely to meet in a rugby World Cup semifinal