Springbok fever grips Paris

2007-09-13 11:25

JJ Harmse

Welcome to Paris!

Thousands of South Africans have arrived in the French capital ahead of the match against England.

It certainly seems as if the Springboks will have strong support in St Denis for the match looking at all the groups roaming the streets dressed in green and gold.

Some are clearly having a lot more fun than others, but come 21:00 at the Stade de France, all with be cheering on the Boks.

I think it is fair to say the Springboks go into the game as favorites. It is a good thing. We certainly played the better rugby in our opening game against Samoa than England's effort against the USA.

England are also without both their regular flyhalves and their captain.

We have a very strong team and should win quite comfortably, actually.

I was in the same venue a week ago when another "favourite" side lost, so let's hope the Springboks can break that spell.

Sure, Schalk Burger will be missed, but I believe Wikus van Heerden will deliver the goods. Van Heerden was fantastic for the Bulls in his role as openside flanker and was one of the most effective loose forwards in this year's Super 14.

We will all remember his exploits for the Springboks Down Under where he literally played his way into the World Cup squad - and into the biggest match of the year for the squad.

Lucky stars

Two months ago, Van Heerden was a fringe selection, two weeks ago, he just made the World Cup squad and now he is preparing to face England.

Jake White can certainly thank his lucky stars that he has Van Heerden as cover for Burger.

The suspension handed to the blonde flanker seems harsh and one hopes his appeal will reduce his time away from the field.

The fact of the matter is that Burger was always a prime candidate for something like this.

Many of the journalists covering the event with me had a bet on which South African would pick up the first yellow card and it was a straight race between Burger and Butch James for that "honour".

I had James, so lost the bet to most of my colleagues, as many of them had Schalk to be the first culprit. No one expected the harsh consequence though.

It is clear the IRB has decided to come down hard on players who play outside of the law and even England's captain, Phil Vickery, realised that there are no exceptions to the rule.

I would like to see some sort of action against referees as well, as we already have had some dubious calls, but maybe there will be some punishment when it comes to the allocation of games for the knockout stages.

Second-tier tournament

The performances of the minnows in France are in the spotlight, as the IRB is looking at changing the number of participants for future tournaments.

They are looking at having 16 teams in 2011 and will have a second-tier tournament in 2009, which would double-up as a qualifier to the next World Cup in New Zealand.

I was especially pleased to see Namibia earn some respect against the Irish.

They were better than the 100 points the Springboks scored against them in their warm-up game and showed it on the night. They are still in trouble though, as both the French and Argentineans are waiting, but they at least showed the Irish that they can play.

Ireland, England and Wales certainly proved to be very disappointing in their opening games and the less said about the Italian surrender to the All Blacks, the better.

Whether it was the fear they have for the All Blacks or just plain stage fright, that match certainly didn't provide the fireworks expected.

The All Blacks will also not learn much when they take on Portugal on Saturday, but at least they are following the same trend as with previous World Cups - starting like champions and then meeting Australia in the semi-finals - a scenario that seems to have a familiar ring to it.

Except of course that they may meet the French in the quarters.

Demoralising

It appears France have already put some thought into that with their darkened blue colour of their jerseys, and when they play the All Blacks, the latter might have to play in an alternate white strip, as the two colours will be too similar.

In a way, it shows the amount of thought the French have put into their campaign and that is why their defeat to Argentina was so demoralising. It certainly was not part of the script.

But then, World Cups are not there to make easy predictions. One elbow could cost a player his chance to play in a final while a rush of blood could cost his side a victory.

The Boks will certainly be aware of that, as they have experienced it first hand.

Let us hope other players in the side keep out of trouble as well. Bad habits die hard though and Burger is certainly paying the price for his.

  • Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.

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