CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Boks take critical break while Ireland and Scotland clash in mighty Pool B decider
The Springboks have the luxury of a bye week before the quarterfinals of Rugby World Cup 2023, while Ireland and Scotland have a mighty clash to come in Paris to decide Pool B.
As the Springbok players dispersed from the pressures of Rugby World Cup 2023 for a few days, the coaches and technical staff will still be hard at work.
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail in this Bok camp. Part of that preparation is allowing the players to let off steam by forgetting about lineouts, mauls, line speed, defensive systems and scrums for a while.
Those whose families are still in France — and it’s most of them — might venture to other parts of the country to escape Toulon for a while. There is nothing wrong with their fabulous set-up on the shores of the Mediterranean, where dips in the sea and walks on the beach have been part of daily life for a month now, but some want a change of scenery.
The first part of the job is all but done — qualification for the quarterfinals. As discussed previously, there is a minuscule chance the Boks can be eliminated, but it would require the most inconceivable outcome between Ireland and Scotland for that to happen.
Players can drift off happy in the knowledge that they have done their bit for now following their 49-18 win over Tonga in Marseille on Sunday.
Between their final Pool match and a possible quarterfinal, the Boks have a 13-day break. They had a similar gap in Japan four years ago, and the management also gave the team some time off then.
There is a school of thought that the long break means the Boks might go into a quarterfinal a little short of match sharpness but given the intensity of clashes with Scotland, Ireland and Tonga in recent weeks, a few day’s break is unlikely to do any harm.
“The positive is it is pretty much similar to what we experienced in 2019 when we also finished our pool quite early,” coach Jacques Nienaber said.
“I think we had a 12-13 day preparation break before we went into our quarterfinal against Japan. It is something we have done before as a group. It worked out well for us back then so we’ll give the players two-three days off and then start preparing.
“Until we know what the outcome is of the pool and who we will face, the France/New Zealand pool will only be determined on Friday night so we will only actually know, depending on how (Pool B) finishes, we will have a good idea of who we will play.
“We will give the guys some time off to get away from the game, to have a little bit of a mental break and then start focusing on what we can do better. So internally focusing on us on things we must improve if we want to stay in this competition until the end.”
For the players, the next three days are just about spending some precious moments with a partner or children, without the next training session, planning meeting, or gym session interrupting the day.
“It’s been a long time since I played a full 80 minutes, never mind 60 minutes at hooker,” an elated but exhausted Deon Fourie said after the Boks 49-18 win over Tonga in Marseille on Sunday.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Boks win 10-try thriller against Tonga to all but secure Rugby World Cup quarterfinal spot
“The body is pretty sore right now. After this tough game (against Tonga) I think this break is a good thing to have a bit of a rest and off week. The other sides (Scotland and Ireland) essentially have a knockout game this weekend and then have to go into a ‘proper’ knockout game a week later.
“My family is here so I’ll be doing a lot of swimming and playing soccer and rugby with the kids on the beach.”
For many of the coaching staff, their jobs don’t stop because there is data to be gathered over potential quarterfinal opponents. France meet Italy on Friday night and that performance will be studied in great detail as will the All Blacks’ hit out against Uruguay on Thursday.
The Boks still don’t know if they will top Pool B or come second. The most likely outcome is they will qualify behind Ireland, but Scotland might have something to say about that.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup News Hub
Scotland quietly confident
Despite not beating Ireland since 2017, Scotland are quietly confident that they can end Ireland’s eight-match winning streak.
But just beating Ireland won’t be enough for the Scots. They have to win by an eight-point margin and stop Ireland scoring four tries. In other words, they have to deny the world’s No 1 side a losing bonus point.
“It (the intensity) goes up another few levels this week. Stade de France, 80,000 people, it will be a brilliant atmosphere. It’s really a knockout game. I know it’s not a straight knockout, but it’s either we do the job and get to the next stage, or we don’t and we’re out,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said.
“It’s why we have put the work in over the past four months since we started (Rugby World Cup training) on 29 May. We’ve put all these hard lines in for a reason, and it’s to deliver our best performance this week.”
It’s unlikely to be a high-scoring match as Ireland’s defence is one of the most miserly in the world. But Townsend believes his side can find a way around Ireland’s line.
“We play with width,” Townsend said. “We have a framework to how we play, but we want players to be taking opportunities: seeing them, communicating them, grabbing them.
“We encourage them to play. In defence, we want the ball back and to be very physical. In terms of set piece, yes there are going to be challenges in the lineout, but Ireland have had a lot of challenges in their lineout over the last few games. The scrum and lineout are areas where we have shown a lot of growth, and now is the time to bring it out.”
While the two Six Nations rivals battle it out, the Boks will be putting their feet up and plotting. DM