Steyn has the game for Div

2011-09-17 00:00

MY opening impression of the World Cup is that, while I didn’t think the standard of play was that high in general, the tier-two nations punched well above their weight. The so-called minnows really put their hands up.

It was great to see the games being so competitive. I think the smaller nations are up for the fight in this World Cup and I’m hoping they can keep up the momentum. I think the IRB has done a terrific job with their high performance strategic initiative.

Many predicted, myself included, the likes of Namibia and Japan would get crushed, but the way they performed was unbelievable. However, I was most impressed with Romania. They were largely written off before the World Cup, but they came within a few minutes of beating Scotland.

From what I have seen so far, the two sides most capable of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy are Australia and New Zealand. Italy held Australia at the break, but the Wallaby backline just had too much firepower and eventually ran away with it in the second stanza. When they hit top gear, they looked impressive.

Looking at the All Blacks, they weren’t at full pitch and played within themselves, but were still able to put away a decent Tongan side comfortably enough.

While the tier-two nations played well, their opponents were equally poor. Scotland are not a strong side, Ireland were having difficulties before the World Cup and continue to struggle. France have been a mixed bag the last few years and that form continued in their first match.

Turning to the Springboks’ clash with Wales, South Africa were poor on the day and will be relieved to have come away with the four points.

Losing Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield to injury was far from ideal. The Boks were poor at lineout time without Matfield. He is critical to the Bok line-out and his injury is cause for concern.

Tactically Wales prepared very well for the Bok clash and I must admit they were better than I thought they would be. I didn’t feel they would have the muscle up front, and thought their locks would be a little lightweight, but they matched the Boks upfront and impressed me.

The Welsh targeted Morné Steyn and ran hard at his channel. It was a difficult afternoon for him and the rest of the side defensively. However, I don’t think the Boks lack courage or bravery.

The Boks have a very good defence coach in Jacques Nienaber, and it may have been an off day in that department — it happens. Players falling off tackles comes down to individual errors. I have no doubt defence will be a point of emphasis ahead of their clash with Fiji.

I wouldn’t read too much into South Africa’s opening performance. It was their first game of the tournament, and the side arrived with plenty of pressure and expectation as the defending champions.

It’s difficult to quibble with De Villiers’ selections for the first game, but now he has an opportunity to look at a few players over the next few games, and play the likes of Francois Hougaard, who impressed. Bryan Habana has plenty of experience, but he hasn’t been in top form.

When it comes to Bismark du Plessis getting more game time, the issue is around John Smit and the captaincy. John is a fantastic bloke and is still a good player, but Bismarck is at the height of his career, whereas John is at the tail-end of his.

De Villiers has stated repeatedly that Smit is his skipper and starting hooker. However, when Bismarck came on he made a tremendous impact.

As far as the halfback pairing of Fourie du Preez and Morné Steyn, no one else can play the style of rugby De Villiers wants to employ. For his big boot and goal-kicking, Steyn is fundamental to the side. He is a fantastic kicker and complements the Springbok’s style of play.

Steyn and Butch James are completely contrasting players. James is a flyhalf capable of playing a variety of styles. While he is experienced and has a good boot, he doesn’t have Steyn’s ability to kick for goal and is not as accurate out of hand.

If De Villiers were to go for a guy like Patrick Lambie, the Boks would have to completely change their style of play. The Boks’ game plan is to play for territory, squeeze the life out of the opposition at set-piece and on defence. They enjoy a direct, confrontational style of rugby.

That is the Boks’ tried and tested game plan and they have made it clear they are not going to deviate far from that. That style of play has been successful for them in the past and they believe it can be successful for them at this World Cup — time will tell whether or not that is the case.

It’s very difficult to change your game plan midstream, but I have no doubt they have some form of a Plan B. However, to change your style during a World Cup is not viable.

To this weekend … I cannot see Ireland beating Australia. The Irish will lift their game, but I can’t see them posing enough questions to the Wallabies. And I think Fiji will struggle to live with the Boks up front and they will get killed at the set-pieces. I don’t anticipate the Boks being tested as much as they were against Wales.

• Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ director of rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

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