Former Bok assistant coach Gary Gold believes RWC 2023 team is still strong despite Ireland loss

Former Bok assistant coach Gary Gold believes RWC 2023 team is still strong despite Ireland loss
From left: Daily Maverick sports editor Craig Ray. (Photo: Supplied) | Franco Mostert of South Africa and James Ryan of Ireland contend at the lineout during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between South Africa and Ireland at Stade de France on 23 September 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo: Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images) | Former Springboks assistant coach Gary Gold. (Photo: Muzi Ntombela / Backpagepix)

Former Springboks assistant coach Gary Gold, in conversation via webinar with Daily Maverick sports editor Craig Ray, broke down where South Africa lost their Pool B clash against Ireland on Saturday.

Ireland edged past South Africa 13-8 in a tense clash at the Stade de France on Saturday evening. Although only a Pool-stage match, it was a spectacle for the ages put on by the No 1- and No 2-ranked teams in the world.

“It was just such a mastery from both teams in skill execution, in entertainment, in leadership,” Gold said. “There was just a lot to admire.”

Although the result wasn’t favourable for the Springboks, their former assistant coach believes there are a number of positives to take from the clash.

“I know South Africa didn’t win the game and I also know that it’s easy when you don’t win the game and you can point to the things that went wrong,” he said.

“But I just think we got a huge amount of things right on the day.

“And I think strategically, we might have had a little bit of a Sherlock Holmes plan up our sleeve in terms of picking the 7-1 bench and then not using the maul the way they expected us to use the maul.”

Having Handre there very well could be putting Manie under pressure considering he wasn’t really being challenged in that 10 position before.

South Africa only opted to use their dangerous driving maul twice in the clash, and the second time was in the dying seconds of the match.

It was an interesting tactical decision to move away from a traditional South African strength by the coaching pair of Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus, who are rarely afraid of making risky decisions.

“[The coaches] think out of the box and they weigh up risk versus reward,” Gold added.

“And I’m wondering if this wasn’t a situation of we actually put ourselves under a pressure situation in the scenario and we think we can beat Ireland with this plan that we have.

“And in the cold light of day, if you consider – I think (referee) Ben O’Keefe had a reasonably good game, but he got it wrong at the end – I mean Bundee Aki came in from the side (to collapse the final maul).

“It was clear to see you know the way the was set up with the reserve loosehead who came on, was completely and totally illegal, and it’s just clear as daylight – so we score that try, then all of a sudden it’s a different story.

“You know, we’re having a different conversation. South Africa were very confident and still very confident. I think they know the way forward.

“I just think that they knew that this was something that, if it worked, we could have another really strong string to our bow and if it didn’t I don’t necessarily think they’re sitting there saying that the World Cup is over now, by any stretch of the imagination.”

Springboks Ireland Manie Libbok

Manie Libbok in action during the Springboks’ World Cup Pool B match against Ireland at Stade de France in Paris on 23 September 2023. (Photo: Steve Haag / Gallo Images)

Libbok vs Pollard

The big talking point from the match was flyhalf Manie Libbok’s missed shots at goal. One conversation and one penalty, which would have had the score at honours even if he had converted both opportunities.

Handré Pollard – who started in the 10 jumper when South Africa won the showpiece event in 2019 – has since joined the squad.

“Having Handre there very well could be putting Manie under pressure considering he wasn’t really being challenged in that 10 position before, and when they picked the squad we knew he was going to start there,” Gold said.

I think we’re definitely putting ourselves into a position where we want to ask more questions with ball in hand as well as be a big brutal pack.

“But the upside to that is that’s what they want. They want Kwagga [Smith] pushing Marco van Staden.

‘They want the fact that you look at it and you’re playing Ireland and you don’t pick Duane Vermeulen.

“Is Jasper Wiese pushing him that hard? And that’s the competitive environment because you create that within your camp.

“It’s definitely going to bring out the best of you and if it doesn’t, well then Handre must play and then that’s as simple as that.

“It’s almost one of those ones where we have to divorce the emotion from it as coaches and you have to look at the facts.”

‘Tricks up his sleeve’

Libbok, however ineffective off the kicking tee, offers a playing style to the Springboks that makes them more versatile in attack.

“[His kicking] isn’t international standard. That’s true,” Gold added. “We’re not denying that. But I think the way the Springboks want to go and where they need to go to be able to win this Rugby World Cup, they believe that Manie has quite a few other tricks up his sleeve that can actually help them become a multilevel team.

Handré Pollard in action against Wales at Cape Town Stadium on 16 July 2022. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images / Getty Images)

“In the last four years the Bok coaches have worked really hard at developing the skills set of the Springboks. They don’t want to be known as a team that just mauls the whole time or just scrums and kicks the ball all day long.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup 2023

“And over the last couple of years we’ve scored some terrific tries. And you just think of how many times Canan [Moodie], Kurt-Lee [Arendse], Cheslin [Kolbe], Willie [Le Roux], those guys have scored fantastic tries, and I think we’re definitely putting ourselves into a position where we want to ask more questions with ball in hand as well as be a big brutal pack.

“The problem is that if you take that away from us, and I don’t think Ireland took it from us, but they certainly neutralised it. If you neutralise it, then the Boks of the past didn’t have a plan B.

“And I think these [Springbok] coaches really want us to have a plan B from that point of view. So it’s not a perfect situation. I think the whole thing is shrouded by the fact that we lost the game.

“He missed two kicks, but… everybody’s human.” DM


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