A start towards the ‘finish’!

2015-10-14 06:00

IT’S time now for the Springboks to look backwards briefly at what they’ve achieved so far in the 2015 Rugby World Cup and then take a long, hard look at what lies ahead as the tournament moves into top gear at the business-end of the four-yearly event.

To start with, the last of the Boks’ Pool B matches against the US Eagles in London looked anything but encouraging. Holding a narrow 14-0 lead at the break – half of which they owed to a converted penalty try – things looked anything but reassuring. But the way they turned the tables in the second half in a quite remarkable manner reminded one of the old Crosby classic in which the king of crooners assured lovers of his music that “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish – and I’m gonna finish on top!”

That’s exactly how it was for the Boks at London’s Queen Elizabeth Park last week as they hammered the nails into the Eagles’ wings to the tune of 64 points to nothing that included three crossings of the American tram’s tryline by an exuberant Bryan Habana. What a relief, too, after that error-strewn first half that included the almost insulting gift of that penalty try!

Then suddenly everything changed – and the wide grins on Habana’s happy face following his first try soon lit up the faces of his teammates. Now, determined to show the first round loss to Japan was no more than an unfortunate hiccup, the South Africans demonstrated a completely different side of their rugby nature. Suddenly they were transformed: became totally clinical, ruthless, and at times virtually sparkled – the 64-0 scoreboard showing just how good they could be at their best.

So where do the Boks go from here? Last weekend it was soon apparent that Wales, even when their Wallaby opponents were reduced to 13 men through two yellow cards, simply didn’t have the firepower to defeat a fiercely determined Australia. A meritoriously brave 13-man defensive effort by the Wallabies and the usual accurate goalkicking by Bernard Foley assured the Australians of a 15-6 win and what very likely will be an easier route for the Wallabies in this weekend’s quarterfinal clash with Scotland. Similarly, the task lying ahead for the Springboks against Wales is likely to be the easier route to higher honours for the South Africans.

But nothing in rugby is easy; specially not a quarter-final against the fiercely proud Welsh. On the other hand, playing as they are at the moment one cannot escape the feeling that Fourie du Preez’s men are in the sort of fettle that could well topple the Welsh, perhaps as they did in clipping the Eagles’ wings, with the panache of winners of real class.

So much will depend on the Boks’ ability to make a solid start to avoid the sort of dithering hesitance that dogged so many of their moves in the early part of their match-up against the US. Inability to avoid a similar display could be crucial to their ambitions to move ahead to the Cup’s semifinal stage. The team has all it needs to assure success from here on through a good mixture of brawn and finesse. Strangely, the injuries to stalwarts Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield, may well prove a blessing for there’s little doubt the best years of these two stalwarts are now something of the past... So once more let’s raise a cheer. Shout it loud and clear: “Go, Bokke – Go!”

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