Clash of the titans

Alan Solomons (Getty Images)
Alan Solomons (Getty Images)
South Africa’s semi-final against New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday certainly won’t be for the faint-hearted.

The All Black-Springbok Test has traditionally been one of the major contests in world rugby and the 91stmeeting between the two nations promises to be a fantastic game of rugby.

82 000 supporters at Twickenham Stadium can expect a physically-bruising and abrasive encounter.

South Africa tackle a New Zealand side brim-full of confidence, having emphatically dispatched of France in the quarter-final.

Owing to history, the All Blacks start as favourites - New Zealand have won 52 of the side’s 90 previous meetings - but South Africa don’t go into this game with no prospect of winning.

However, the Springboks have to be right on top of their game. Their defence has to be absolutely top drawer, they will have to bring massive physicality, and pressure is the buzzword for this particular match.

If the South Africa is able to put New Zealand under pressure at the set-pieces and the maul, I believe it will have a knock-on effect.

The Springboks literally cannot allow the All Blacks to breathe because they possess dangerous game-breakers. South Africa cannot afford for the game to break up and become loose because, as evidenced against France, the All Blacks boast skilful players and sound decision-makers across the board.  

As Heyneke Meyer has said, the Springboks have gone back to playing to their traditional strengths and that has borne fruit for them up to the present moment. Whenever the Springboks have impressed against the All Blacks in the past, they’ve put them under pressure and subsequently cut down on their time and space.

Individual brilliance will come from Bok players at times during the 80 minutes - Bryan Habana and Jesse Kriel are dangerous outside backs - but South Africa have a set way of playing and that risk-averse approach is the way they are going to try to beat the All Blacks.

Since the Japanese defeat, I certainly haven’t seen anything other than South Africa employing their traditional style of play. It is underpinned by forward dominance and a territory-based approach.

During the 2015 Rugby Championship, Argentina scored two tries against the All Blacks by way of the driving maul tactic. While some have highlighted it as a potential area of weakness for the men in black, they are a well-coached team, they know what is coming their way and will be prepared for it.

We played the All Blacks at the 1999 World Cup where I served as Nick Mallett’s assistant coach. However, this current campaign is a completely different situation.

Sixteen years ago, we faced an All Blacks side in the third-place playoff, who were at sixes and sevens having been knocked out at the semi-final stage by France.

While we deserved our 22-18 victory on the day, to be fair, the All Blacks were still in a state of shock and reeling from their previous result. Saturday’s encounter could not be more different. South Africa will face a New Zealand side that has really hit its straps.

Against France, Julian Savea was at his devastating best. The left wing is playing with real confidence. For one of the three tries he dotted down in Cardiff, he left three Frenchmen sprawling on the floor.

There are definite similarities which can be drawn between Savea and the legendary Jonah Lomu. Like Savea, Lomu was big, powerful and quick. He was a great player and sensation when he first burst onto the scene. While Lomu was the first of his kind, Savea is following the former’s lead.

Turning to the second semi-final at Twickenham on Sunday, if Australia reproduce the form they displayed during the pool stages against England and Wales, I see Michael Cheika’s men advancing to the final. The Wallabies will know they are most fortunate to be in a semi-final - Scotland were exceptional - and they will be determined to take the matter further and push through to the final.

However, Argentina were terrific against an injury-riddled Irish outfit, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility they could cause an upset. Playing in the Rugby Championship since 2012 has done the Pumas a power of good as participating in top-flight competition drives player/coach/referee and administrator development.

Be prepared for two semi-finals laced with passion and purpose.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett during the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Having served as the Southern Kings’ director of rugby, he is now head coach of Edinburgh Rugby.

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