Boks plan to repeat 2007 tactics

2011-10-08 00:00

IT has all the makings of a classic contest, a Rugby World Cup quarter-final battle with the experienced Springboks looking to their brawn, physicality and structure to snuff out the skilful, broken field running of the young Wallabies in Wellington tomorrow.

Suddenly, chillingly, the World Cup is at crunch time and this has particularly significance for a number of senior Springboks who have been alongside coach Peter de Villiers in plotting their campaign since 2008 and are retiring after the tournament.

Not only has De Villiers placed his faith in old heroes, but the Springboks will also not deviate dramatically from the game plan that won the 2007 title. Their emphasis today will again be on set-piece dominance, playing for territory, applying pressure and taking their points, either by kicking penalties or relying on their big runners to blast through opposing defences.

It is a game plan well suited to both the demands of knock-out rugby and Wellington’s infamous weather.

The Wallabies, in contrast, will want to exploit the talents of the most potent backline in world rugby, one crowded with players who exploit space at pace and run superb angles.

They have a host of game-breakers in Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor and Digby Ioane on the outside, while Quade Cooper and Will Genia will probe on the fringes.

The Wallabies are also over their injuries and will be at full strength. They have opted for the powerful Pat McCabe instead of Berrick Barnes at inside centre and he will charge down the Morné Steyn-Jean de Villiers channel just as Jamie Roberts did so successfully for Wales against the Boks.

The trick, as the Irish showed in stunning Australia in the round robin competition, is to smother the Wallaby pack and play in the faces of their backs, reducing their space and time.

This, of course, presumes that the Boks will be stronger, even dominant at forward. But even this cannot be taken for granted.

The Australians, streetwise and smart, have found ways of negating Springbok muscle in winning five of their last six Test matches, and the South Africans will have to be at their very best tomorrow.

Both vice captain Victor Matfield, in praising their lineout, and assistant coach Gary Gold have emphasised that the Australian set piece should not be under-rated.

“Our lineouts will need to be very efficient and our scrums will have to be sharp,” said Gold yesterday. “I don’t think we did really well against Australia at the scrums during the Tri-Nations, so that in itself is a challenge.”

Still, in the quality of their forward play and in defence, the Springboks have improved markedly since the Tri-Nations and they will be confident their veteran pack will be the difference between two well-matched teams.

While the gamebreakers in the Wallaby backline will pose a constant threat, particularly if the tactical kicking of Morné Steyn and Fourie du Preez lacks accuracy, it is openside flank David Pocock who will trouble the Springboks the most.

Pocock’s return from injury has lifted the Wallaby forwards and his ability in securing turnovers is crucial to releasing their counter-attacking backs. His squabble with the Boks’ pocket battleship, flank Heinrich Brüssow, at the tackle will be a feature of this Test.

Gold yesterday highlighted the importance of the breakdown.

“If you consider the weather, the Bok loose forwards could play a significant role. The breakdown will probably be the defining factor, and the team adapting to the referee’s interpretations will be in a great position to win this game,” said Gold.

‘For Brüssow and Pocock it’s such a fine line between being a genius and breaking the law.”

The sceptics already believe that De Villiers has missed a trick in failing to start with his strongest team and limiting the influence of the in-form Francois Hougaard and hooker Bismarck du Plessis by naming them on the bench. De Villiers, particularly in the selection of captain Smit, is looking for the best of two worlds.

The argument is that Smit can do a solid job in the first half when the exchanges are tight and when his accurate lineout throwing and powerful scrummaging will be a factor. Du Plessis will then take over in the second half as play becomes looser and he secure turnovers and make an impact with his driving play.

The conditions will obviously play a role. A wet pitch will encourage tactical kicking and the direct, conservative style of the South Africans while dulling the attacking style of the Australians. Dry conditions, which are forecast, will encourage the Wallabies’ natural ball-in-the-hand approach, which will stretch the Boks’ defence.

It promises to be the tightest of contests, one which could decided by a piece of individual inspiration, a kick by Morné Steyn or an error by a luckless player or referee Bryce Lawrence.

The haunting thought is that by Monday the Springboks could be on their way home, a quarter-final defeat launching a wave of recriminations in a country that will not accept the premature exit of the champions. Coach De Villiers will be crucified with captain John Smit, at the fag-end of a distinguished career, the most convenient of scapegoats.

‘Tis a fate too ghastly to contemplate.

TEAMS

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia; 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu

Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Anthony Fainga’a.

South Africa: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.

Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Willem Alberts, 19 Francois Louw, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Butch James, 22 Gio Aplon.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ).

Kick-off: Tomorrow 7 am

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