Cape Town - No more ifs and no more buts, this is it!
One missed tackle in defence or one pass too early or a millisecond too late in attack and it could mean the difference between winning and losing, lifting the trophy or being labelled as an “also ran” at RWC 2015.
I am not quite sure if the rugby public fully comprehends what is really at stake tomorrow when the Boks face the All Blacks. I mean this in the nicest possible way and no disrespect to the rugby public, but let me explain.
For many players this will be the biggest game in their rugby playing careers to date. I think of Jessie Kriel, Lood de Jager and Damian De Allande. For some, this might even be the biggest game they will play ever. Rugby World Cups only come along every four years and some of the world’s best players and rugby hall of famers will never ever have the opportunity to get their hands on that trophy - Christian Cullen, Justin Marshall to name just two. This is huge!
On Saturday the Boks are facing the best team in the world, without a doubt. The All Blacks have been consistently occupying the number one position in World Rugby rankings for the last decade and since they were crowned Rugby World Cup winners in New Zealand in 2011, they have only lost four odd games in four years. That in itself is an impressive statistic. Just looking at the above-mentioned paragraph and you don’t need to be a rugby expert to work out what the Boks are well and truly up against tomorrow. It gets worse.
Going into this game and into the Rugby World Cup, the Boks have been far from impressive in instilling the belief in us all supporting them through thick and thin. Going onto the Rugby World Cup, the Boks only won two of their last six games and the road during RWC 2015 has been very rocky indeed. We have shown some progress and improvement after the Japanese debacle but last weekend against a depleted Welsh team we only just managed to pull through.
On the other side of the pitch we have seen a team on the rise during the tournament, even though they were pushed and sometimes tested early on by the likes of Argentina and Tonga.
Last weekend, the All Blacks literally wiped the floor with their bogey team and made a statement as big as our beloved President’s house at Nkandla. The French were sent packing on the early Eurostar back to France and the world took notice and stood in awe of a brutal yet finely finessed performance from the All Blacks machine.
In saying this, I think that last weekend’s results and the way in which they came about in both quarter-finals were the best possible results and process for the Boks. They had to work really hard to get a result and now they know exactly what it will take to win a game during the knockout stages at this year’s Rugby World Cup. Looking back and we realise that the Boks have been playing knockout rugby since week two after the slip up against Japan in week one. The only thing that keeps on changing is obviously the opposition.
For the All Blacks, it just happened against the French who should have just stayed in the changing room after the half time break. As brilliant and as entertaining as the French can be, they were equally as bad and sometimes bordering on embarrassment and non-commitment. Losing is one thing but not being committed to die for the cause is unforgiving and tells a story far deeper than just what you saw on the rugby field. We can discuss this another time.
So how do we beat this All Blacks machine and is it possible at all? From a rugby and form point of view there are very few, if any indicators pointing to a Springbok victory. In terms of form, style of play and creating opportunities, the Boks are way off the pace. Throw into that equation the kicking away of possession to an All Black back three of Smith, Savea and Milner-Skudder and we should pray to Eskom for some load shedding at 17:00 on Saturday and save us all from the massacre about to take place at Twickenham.
Hang on … It’s a semi-final of a Rugby World Cup, the Boks are firm underdogs and we are facing the old enemy for another epic encounter. When you look at this way, you will see that form counts for nothing, past results count for nothing and it only comes down to belief, sheer guts and determination to decide the result. Trust me when I say that there will be plenty of that on the pitch from both sides. Who wants and, more importantly, who believes it the most will get the result in this game. Hang onto your seats!
Let your passion drive this team.