Boks have the edge

2011-10-05 13:29
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Alan Solomons

Other than Tonga’s shock upset of France, the last week of pool matches went as expected. With the minnows having departed, the tournament now gets interesting. It comes down to big match temperament and which side can best handle the pressure of knockout rugby.

The Samoan game was never going to be easy for the Boks, but the win and the fact they remain unbeaten is a big positive. However, the victory came at a price with Francois Steyn ruled out for the rest of the tournament.

It’s a doubled edged sword as to whether the game was good preparation ahead of the quarter-final clash against Australia. On one hand, you can take momentum into a knockout clash after a hard-fought win, but adversely the Springboks took a real physical pounding and that could work against them.

The Boks have a very good backline and Jean de Villiers is an experienced replacement for the injured Steyn. Patrick Lambie is a dynamic player and when he joins the line and plays at first receiver, he offers another dimension on attack.

The Boks do have strength out wide but that is not the way they will play against Australia this Sunday. When it comes to the crunch games, South Africa will stick to the tried and trusted. They have built their success on strong defence and set-piece dominance.

They will look to suffocate the Australians and deny them momentum on attack. Some critics may see it as a boring game, but these tactics serve their strategy. The Boks are a side that play for territory and not one that build up multiple phases.

The driving maul from the lineout may well be a tactic the Boks will employ. Dan Vickerman will be a key man for the Wallabies at the lineout, but I don’t see Victor Matfield being too tested in that department. He is still a superb tactician of that set-piece.

I disagree with those who say Australia go in as favourites. Although they are close to home and know the conditions well, so too do the South Africans. I think it’s clever minds games from the Boks claiming the underdog tag as it take the pressure off them.

I think the Wallabies are still carrying the mental scarring from their loss to Ireland, which was a huge psychological blow.

Although the Boks scrapped past Wales and weren’t that special against Samoa, they have passed all their major tests and I feel they are the side with the momentum heading into the match. I’m backing the Boks to win a hard-fought encounter.

The Irish certainly showed the Wallabies can be dominated upfront and question marks still hover over Quade Cooper’s decision-making and ability to run a game when under concerted pressure. The Springboks have the edge over the Wallabies upfront and should dominate come scrum-time.

I see Australia certainly attacking Morne Steyn’s channel. They are blessed with dangerous backs, who can’t be afforded any time or space. Their game breakers will look for mismatches on defence and will run hard at the line and on the angle.

The Boks have used both the C-shape and Slide defence in the tournament so far. The former defence can be very effective and suffocating, but there is also a danger of players pushing up too quickly looking to cut off the pass. If a second wave of attack is set up quickly that defensive pattern can be exposed. The latter defence exerts as much pressure, but is more beneficial with regard to cutting down the Wallabies’ time and space.

Wales and Ireland’s clash will be a cracker. They’ve been the tournament’s best two northern hemisphere nations and it’s a pity they’ve been drawn against each other early on.

I think the Irish have a slight edge in the pack. They have a mean front row and loose forward Sean O’Brien has been immense. They are also the more experienced side and have more game breakers in their backline. I’m tipping them to win a tight contest and make it all the way to the final.

In some ways, England’s conservative tactics are similar to South Africa, but their pack is not as strong. That said, I see them turning over France, who have come to resemble the French football team of the 2010 World Cup.

The loss of Dan Carter is a massive blow to the All Blacks, and is very sad from a World Cup perspective. The All Blacks are still very strong, but it's clear they are not the same side when without Carter or Richie McCaw.

Colin Slade is a good young player, but lacks the international experience and consistency Carter offers as a goalkicker. Piri Weepu is an interesting option at flyhalf, but in terms of the All Blacks’ strategy, I trust Slade will get the nod.

The All Blacks have a great draw and won’t be tested by an Argentina side who don’t have much to offer. Their first real test will only come in the semi-final. Carter’s injury may have cut their odds considerably, but I would still back them to win their home tournament.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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