The Boks are renowned for their power up front, if occasionally lacking in dynamism behind the scrum. This brand of rugby works perfectly well against Northern Hemisphere teams, who often prioritise kicking and flair over brute strength, but is unlikely to prove the telling factor further through the tournament as teams will attempt to exploit the heavier forwards to create overlaps on the outside. Ultimately therefore, the Springboks’ power game is both a benefit and a hindrance, with an over-reliance upon it likely to see their World Cup hopes extinguished without mercy.
Areas of weakness
For all of their impressive play in the latter games of the pool stages and the workmanlike nature of their victory over Wales, the Springboks still suffer in certain key areas that are lightly to be exploited by cannier opponents. In the midfield, Damian de Allende offers very little when presented with slow ball and his seeming inability to run straight lines will likely stifle the Boks momentum in upcoming games. Further back, Willie le Roux, hailed in previous years as the best Bok fullback since Percy Montgomery, often looks lost under the high ball. It was his misreading of Dan Biggar’s up and under that led to Wales’ try at Twickenham.
All great teams also require a brilliant game-manager at 10, and Handre Pollard’s inability to pick a line and inconsistency off the tee reveals this to be a further aspect of the Boks game that appears to be missing.
The OAP factor
Within all successful teams a balance must be struck between youth and experience and the Springboks appear to have mastered that balance across the park. With the likes of Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez and Bismarck du Plessis, the Boks have a strong core of experienced heads, each of whom have played in a World Cup final before and offer the nous to see out games even when the team is not playing at its full potential. Of further importance is that the Boks seem to have shaken off their image as the ‘ageing’ team, as was portrayed following the Japan defeat and it is telling that the only piece of magic that split the Welsh defence on Saturday was finished off by one of the old guard.
the Boks have a strong core of experienced heads, each of whom have played in a World Cup final
Plan A or Bust
In the past, the Springboks have been criticised for the lack of a Plan B when forced into a corner, a concern that was particularly apparent following Japan’s unprecedented triumph over them in the pool stages. Therefore, to have any chance of clinching the Webb Ellis Cup, Heyneke Meyer will need to find alternatives to the default Springbok setting of demolition. A more nuanced approach in the backs will be required, bringing Le Roux into the game from full back and crucially taking the emphasis off the forward pack who will tire more easily. If the Boks can achieve dominance behind the scrum to match what they have up front, the journey to World Cup glory begins to look a little clearer.
Not least amongst the obstacles South Africa face in trying to win this World Cup are their semi-final opponents, New Zealand. Not possessing a good record against the All Blacks having lost three of their last four against their southern hemisphere rivals, the Boks will at least know what faces them when they line up at Twickenham on 24 October. Both mentally and physically, the Boks will need to steel themselves against the kiwi onslaught and weather the early pressure that effectively doomed France in their quarter-final. If able to get a foothold and deny the All Blacks a decent front foot platform, the gates to the final will be open for the Boks, but if they get caught napping in the wide channels, this World Cup could be remembered for very different reasons down in the Cape.