The Springboks arrived earlier than any other team in Japan, ready to avenge their exit from the 2015 World Cup semi-finals.
The technical prowess of Rassie Erasmus combined with astute team selection and implementation of the rush defense has yielded successful results and a long-awaited match against the All Blacks. The rise of Cheslin Kolbe as a match-winner has been a revelation this world cup. Kolbe, a lithe and small winger born in the Western Cape, stands 171 cm in an arena of giants. His attacking of the high ball was brilliant, beating much taller men like the 196 cm Sergio Parisse, against Italy.
The first game against New Zealand reiterated a common SA rugby fans’ headache: the “Garces” effect on South African scoreboards. The mistakes made affected many penalty opportunities that should have been blown. Rassie Erasmus even hinted at his frustration with a sarcastic comment about “fair” refereeing at the post match conference.
Tactically, South Africa’s new rush defense will be a difficult tactic to handle in upcoming games. The English league was an early proponent of this defense and it made its way into Wales’s repertoire for the 2015 Rugby World cup. The latest use of it in super rugby has influenced Erasmus’ defence. The principal around it is simple, instead of screening the movement of the opposition, the opposition is hounded, which forces the ball inward.
Handrè Pollard’s questionable big match temperament, in terms of conversions, is something that needs to be addressed. Pollard is an astute runner and decision maker but when conversions need to be made, Pollard seems to not be able to mount pressure on the scoreboard when it most counts.
It is very important that South Africa has defeated the lower ranked teams in their past three games. South Africa failed to do so in the last world cup and the result against Japan in 2015 placed doubt into the psyche in the South African team. We just never seemed like we would fully recover from the shock loss and all in all, we did not. The Springboks still have a lot to prove but they’re on the right track with their recent win against Japan in the quarter-finals on 20 October.
If Erasmus can develop a master plan to counter the All Blacks, we could claim the trophy.
Illustration: Giovanna Janos