What a weekend!

2007-10-08 10:04

Gary Boshoff

What a weekend! What a Rugby World Cup!

One commentator summed it up appropriately: "Quarter-final weekend has been turned on its head!"

Who would have called the 2007 World Cup semi-finals without Australia and New Zealand? And yes, so very, very nearly without South Africa as well. I still can't believe it!

Already the All Black hierarchy has given Graham Henry the send-off.

Jake White must have squirmed in his seat when the Springboks so desperately defended their World Cup hopes against a hungry Fijian side when the score was level at 20-20.

He knows that nothing short of winning the World Cup will see him in with a chance for a second term as Springbok coach.

As the closing date stated on the advertisement for the vacant Springbok coach position is October 19, he will have to submit his application if the Springboks qualify for the final.

I say 'if' the qualify, for if World Cup semi-final weekend is going to be anything like the past weekend's quarter-final results, we might just see England play Argentina in the final! Improbable? Don't bet on it!

Advantage

A few weeks before the start of the World Cup I referred to the mental preparedness of teams and how in the knock-out phases of a competition like the World Cup, it becomes the key determinant of success. I am sure that all bookmakers had the All Blacks as the clear favourites to win the tournament.

The result against the French came as a shock to everyone but the French. Even though they were upstaged by the Pumas in the opening game of the tournament and thereby losing the advantage to play the all-important quarter-final in front of their home crowd, they still managed to knock over All Blacks on a ground Graham Henry and his team described as "their happy hunting ground".

The French, who consistently dished up mediocre performances the last two years, had everything to play for; they are the hosts of the World Cup and couldn't afford not to be in the final.

I have to confess, I predicted that the All Blacks would take this one by 30! I mean, how wrong can you be?

The Springboks on the other hand had a much easier task against Fiji.

Turned the tables

In fact Jake White confidently stated that to beat Fiji does not require rocket science and that he knows exactly what to do.

I would have loved to see his face when Fiji turned the tables on him with just 15 minutes to go.

At that moment I could sense the panic on the field and the Springboks suddenly started to miss tackles and take wrong options.

Friends of mine who are on their way to the World Cup anxiously watched and prayed that the Boks would be one of the teams running on to field next week in Paris.

Playing Argentina in the semi-final is not going to be easy; in fact, success against the Pumas will require the Springbok pack to be dominant against the rampant battle-hardened Puma forwards.

This will require superior mental strength, cohesion and the willingness to play the ball wide in order to stretch the disciplined Puma defence.

The next tactic should be to put as much pressure as possible on Pichot and Hernandez, the Argentine half-back pairing.

Here the roles of Fourie du Preez, Juan Smith and Schalk Burger are going to be critical.

Attack

However, Argentina are experts in spoil and disruption techniques - so executing the above game plan is going to be much easier said than done.

I just hope that the Springboks will continue to use their very talented midfield combination abundantly and attack the defensive line without respite.

New Zealand as well as Australia have already paid the price for allowing themselves to be sucked into forward battles which they just as easily could have avoided.

So, while we happily celebrate the departure of the All Blacks, the Springboks should beware and take to heart the valuable lessons evident in the All Black and Wallaby defeats!

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

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