Vive la Bokke!

2007-10-15 12:55

Gary Boshoff

To the great relief of all South African rugby supporters, the Springboks easily cruised to victory against the Pumas in the second semi-final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

While the Springbok forwards had a torrid time, especially in the scrums, it was once again that man Bryan Habana who dashed the Pumas' hopes on the night.

Through the calm composure of Fourie du Preez, Percy Montgomery and Butch James, South Africa took a measured approach to play the game in the Pumas' half. They wore them down and eventually ran out easy winners.

However, in my opinion, it was another top performance by Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha in the lineouts that put the game beyond the reach of the Pumas. They won crucial lineout possession on defence and derailed many of the Argentine's attacking opportunities.

Earlier, the Boks couldn't have asked for a better result in the France v England semi-final. They must be feeling the Webb Ellis trophy is in their hands already.

On the other hand - the worrying question that must be mulling in the heads of the Springboks is whether England are ready to peak in the final.

Pressure

It was the English who yet again turned the tables on the bookies and pundits, by trouncing the giant-killing French in the first semi-final.

Like in the opening game of the tournament, the French succumbed to the big match atmosphere, the pressure to win in front of their passionate home crowd and a tenacious, focused English outfit.

All credit to Brian Ashton and his team - it was simply incredible to witness (though from 10 000km away) the difference that Jonny Wilkinson makes to their team.

However, not only Wilkinson, but the entire English squad managed to transform themselves from a bunch of no-hopers, after being crushed 36-0 by South Africa, to finalists and genuine title contenders come Saturday.

I was surprised by the comments from some pundits that this was a case of France having lost the match rather then England having won it.

I do not agree with that viewpoint. In fact I am of the opinion that on the day the English deserved to win.

Uncompromising

Firstly, their defence was outstanding, giving the French no free inch to move in. Although their back row was brilliant in the tackle and counter-drive situations, it was the diminutive Wilkinson who impressed the most in the physical confrontation and tactical kicking departments.

On more than one occasion he was called upon to confront French forwards face-on and believe me, he did not come off second best once. His uncompromising resilience and meticulous approach to the game laid the foundation for a team that lacked self-belief and confidence at the start of this tournament. He sets the tone and the rest of them simply follow.

The remarkable metamorphosis of the team was completed with the humble manner in which they accepted their success. Both Phil Vickery and Brian Ashton have not gloated once about beating arch-rivals Australia and France - I am sure the temptation must have been great - as they are focused on retaining their title as world champions. The Springboks should take serious note of this.

It is clear that although the players are the same, England are a different TEAM from the one that played against the Springboks earlier in the tournament.

A week of detailed tactical analysis and mercurial planning lies ahead for both teams.

South Africa will certainly try to build on their performance in the semis and try to shut the English out early in the match, while England would have noticed the vulnerability of the Springbok scrum.

Jake white and his team are one hurdle away from achieving the ultimate accolade in world rugby, but in their way stand the reigning RWC champions determined to retain their title.

Let the contest begin! Go Bokke!

  • Gary Boshoff is a former Saru player and well-known rugby administrator.

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