For weeks we’ve been defending the Boks’ performances, saying a fair assessment can only be made once the full-strength team is back in action. Although not the triple-A side, this team carries the hope of a nation and their performance on Saturday will provide the answer to the question: can the Boks win Rugby World Cup 2011? A tipping-point preview by STYLI CHARALAMBOUS.
Two woeful wallopings in Australasia had Bok fans hurling empty bottles of Castle at their TV screens and cursing P Divvy and his coaching staff. Proud rugby fans, especially of South African ones, hate to lose, all the more so considering the manner in which defeat was handed to them by the Wallabies and All Blacks. But now the opportunity for redemption and restoring the public faith awaits the most experienced Bok team in history.
With 810 caps under the belt, this starting side, bar the presence of Schalk Burger and Juan Smith, is the team P Divvy will most likely put out as his first-choice team at Wellington on 9/11. Mimicking the selection strategy that served Jake White well in France in 2007, the great moustachioed one has put his faith in his seasoned campaigners.
The Springboks will line up against a Wallaby side brought back down to earth after their drubbing at the hands of the All Blacks. Given the Reds Super Rugby triumph and a Wallaby thrashing of the Bok B-Team, many were talking up their chances against the All Blacks at Eden Park. But the most aged and experienced New Zealand team had other ideas and quickly put paid to any upset aspirations the Wallabies had.
To play a Wallaby side one week after an All Black hiding may not always be the best time to gauge the chances of a team hoping to win the Webb Ellis trophy. But that is a very important aspect of Tri-Nations rugby most Bok fans forget – the only easy weekend in the Tri-Nations is the one when the other two teams are playing. Unlike our northern hemisphere cousins, who get to play the likes of Scotland or Italy every other weekend, South Africa face-off each weekend against the best two other teams in world rugby. And because the quality of opponents is of the highest standard, unless you are fielding your first-choice team, the chances of a victory are very slim.
There are several interesting sub-plots playing out in this Shakespearean tragedy of an international season for the Boks. Will John Smit justify his starting position ahead of the burly Bismark du Plessis, in the face of of mounting calls to play one of the most belligerent hookers in world rugby? Will Heinrich Brüssouw again display the thieving prowess he so brilliantly executed before being sidelined by knee and hamstring injuries? Will Fourie du Preez cope with the pace of the international rugby after two years of watching from his armchair? And will these senior citizens shake off the rustiness of not having played together in many months to show Australia and the world the Boks mean business.
This team will be desperate to show their fans, and bosses, that they are capable of winning the World Cup. And to do so, they will need nothing short of a victory on Saturday. It won’t be pretty, but then again, it doesn’t have to be. World Cups aren’t won with flamboyant rugby, and this test match is an important tipping point in their quest for success and the history that awaits them should they lift that awesome golden trophy for the third time.
The Boks will most likely struggle to find early rhythm on Saturday, but will likely improve steadily as the scrums and line-outs secure them good set-piece possession. The experienced duo of Du Preez and Butch James at halfback will have their hands full keeping Will Genia and Quade Cooper at bay, but will no doubt get the back line into play significantly more than Ruan Pienaar and Morné Steyn ever could when these two teams last met in Sydney.
Goal kicking, for both teams, will be crucially important in what is expected to be a very tight game. For South Africa, if James or Francois Steyn show 80%-plus consistency, the coaching staff will no longer feel the need to pick an out-of-form Morné Steyn for important matches, based solely on his accurate place-kicking abilities. For Australia, James O’Connor, the designated first-choice kicker, had a nightmare performance against New Zealand last week and it will be interesting to see whether he is once again trusted with the kicking duties. For all their flair and try-scoring ability, inaccurate goal kicking remains one of the biggest concerns for the Wallabies ahead of the World Cup.
While the bookies expect the Boks to pip Australia by four points on Saturday, one feels the significance of this game, the determination of many returning players to silence their critics and the long-distance travel the Wallabies have had to undergo could see the Boks home by a few more points. If they don’t, we could be in for a torrid two months indeed. DM
Wallabies: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 James Horwill, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Salesi Ma’afu, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Anthony Faingaa.
Springboks: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Morné Steyn, 22 Gio Aplon.
Date: Saturday, 13 August
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Main photo: Lwazi Mvovo of South Africa’s Springboks is tackled by James O’Connor of Australia’s Wallabies during their Tri-Nations rugby union match in Sydney July 23, 2011. Reuters/Tim Wimborne.
"Go down this set of stairs and then just run - run as fast as you can." ~ Lt David Brink, 9/11