Carl de Villiers, Zululand Observer
While South Africa scraped through the messy affair against Wales thanks to Fourie du Preez‘s sizzling try at the death, the black mean machine rolled over the temperamental French in ominous fashion, adding to their aura of invincibility.
So yes, backing the Boks will be more a matter of the heart as opposed to rational thinking.
But does it mean it’s all over bar the shouting?
Certainly not. There are still enough positives to suggest Heyneke Meyer’s green and gold warriors can go Spartan and pull off an upset win.
For that to happen though, a number of crucial aspects of the South African squad’s game would hopefully have received serious corrective action this week in the run-up to the big Twickenham dust-up.
Meyer said earlier that the World Cup would be won by the team with the most effective defensive structures. He may have a point and so far (barring the Japan embarrassment) the Boks managed to get by with such an approach. Yet, one fears much more will be needed to limit the marauding All Blacks from ticking over the scoreboard.
From a South African point of view, the following key considerations will make or break the Springbok challenge.
Pinpoint tactical kicking
This remains an area of great concern. Far too often the Boks’ shortcomings in this department have put them under unnecessary pressure, something they will rue against New Zealand whose lethal counter-attacking prowess is known to everyone.
Winning the arm wrestle at the breakdown
South Africa’s limitations here were rudely exposed by the in-your-face Welsh. Conceding precious turnover possession at this stage of the World Cup is incomprehensible. Surely Meyer has identified this some time ago, and if he and his brains trust have indeed been working on this aspect, why are they still not getting it right?
The much talked about Duane Vermeulen-Fourie du Preez manoeuvre falls within this ambit, but a one-trick pony moment is unlikely to be enough on Saturday. The Boks will have to offer more than the one-dimensional stock car strategy of relentlessly pounding of the opposition down the channels to force openings. Wily All Black coach Steve Hansen will be wise to this.
The pivotal flyhalf battle
For all his still-to-be-unlocked talent, young Handré Pollard (unless Meyer springs a shocker by fielding Pat Lambie in a surprise move) cannot be rated in the same league as master craftsman Dan Carter. Yet, he does have a cool head and if he holds his composure, achieve goal-kicking consistency and finally master the art of pinpoint tactical kicking, he may well turn out to be the surprise ace in the pack.
Willie le Roux seems to have temporarily lost his mojo and one can rest assured that Carter will test this premise very early on with some nasty up-and-unders. Hopefully Le Roux will be back at his best, but wings JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana will no doubt be extra vigilant in providing a protective blanket over the back triangle.
After all has been said and done, one fact remains – the Springboks are not the French.
They’ll be up there fighting fire with fire and if there is one team that can spoil the All Black party, look no further.