Springboks hitting their straps

Alan Solomons (Getty Images)
Alan Solomons (Getty Images)

Off the back of a resounding victory against the USA at Olympic Stadium on Wednesday, Heyneke Meyer’s decision to limit the number of changes in terms of playing personnel and keep the core of the team together has been vindicated.

I totally agree with what Heyneke has done, and believe it will make a big difference heading in the knock-out phase of the tournament.

The Springboks require a mix of momentum and continuity heading into the quarter-finals in 10 days’ time. 

The loose trio of Francois Louw, Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen has come together nicely and Fourie du Preez has done a sound job as captain having taken over from the injured Jean de Villiers.

Du Preez plays a pivotal role in the team because South Africa, like many of the French sides of old, is run from number nine and not 10.

Twenty-one-year-old flyhalf Handré Pollard is a real talent, but Du Preez conducts the orchestra.

South Africa’s style is to predominantly play off nine because they aim to dominate sides physically. As such, they want their bruising forwards as close to the gain line as possible. Young locks Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager have been absolutely outstanding during the World Cup and have contributed a combined tally of 70 carries after South Africa’s four pool fixtures.

The Springboks are a very strong set-piece side, play for territory and, as outlined above, endeavour to dominate sides from a physical standpoint. To a large extent, South Africa possesses a ‘subdue and penetrate’ mentality. By and large, South Africa’s backs are not unleashed from inside their half unless there is a turnover or intercept. Fundamentally, the men in green and gold play rugby when they are deep inside the opposition half i.e. the 22.

By all accounts, South Africa’s tactical kicking game needs to be on song and their defence and set-piece potent because the fact of the matter is they are not going to win the World Cup through their attack. This was particularly evident last night when the USA were totally overpowered upfront.

In terms of their tactical kicking game, sticking to their structures is critical. Heyneke’s men will have a set structure in place before they kick so that they have the right players on their feet, can set up a decent chase line and the necessary cover at the back. The upshot is that when the Springboks kick, it will be anticipated and every player will be well aware of his role.

When you play physically like South Africa does, the concession of penalties and yellow cards is always a risk. The Springboks have conceded an average of just over 12 penalties per match, which is on the high side because you always want to keep the penalty count down to single figures. A lack of on-field discipline is obviously a point of frustration for coaches and the team, but the reality is you are dealing with human beings and not machines. World Rugby has made a big statement on the welfare of the players. Consequently, referees are hammering anything above the neck line at this World Cup. Players also have to you have to be very careful with the contest in the air, clean outs and tackles not using the arms. All coaches understand that the safety of players is paramount.

South Africa will be interested spectators when Australia tackle Wales at Twickenham on Saturday because they will face the runners-up of Pool A. Warren Gatland has done a great job with a Welsh side that has been decimated by injuries, but even without the influence of Michael Hooper, who will serve a one-week suspension for foul play, I expect Australia to prevail. I have said from the beginning that I believe Australia is going to win this World Cup. Michael Cheika is an exceptional coach who has added steel to the Wallabies without taking away from their flair and ability to play good attacking rugby. He has done a fantastic job and they have every prospect of going all the way.

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.

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