Boks to bow out in semi-finals
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
With the 2011 Rugby World Cup just days away, Alan Solomons runs the rule over the remaining teams in a Sport24 exclusive. In our final instalment, he previews Pool D…
The Springboks don’t have an easy pool, but I don’t think Wales can live with the Boks in terms of physicality. The Samoans and Fijians will certainly give a good game, but I believe the Boks have the edge. The Springboks will be structured and controlled, and won’t let the game break up. The Boks are a very experienced team and are blessed with a physical pack. However, those critics who say South Africa have no real threats in the backline need only look at Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers in the midfield, who are a fantastic pair of centres. In my view, Fourie du Preez is the best scrumhalf in the world and Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen are still fine wings. With their depth in personnel, I believe the Boks can play any way they want – though indications are they will play their traditional style of rugby. When Morne Steyn plays behind a powerful pack and has Du Preez on his inside and De Villiers on his outside, he is a different player. I believe he can play to the strategy that South Africa want to implement. He has a big boot and is a great goalkicker. The Boks are a very powerful side with strength across the board. I believe they are the side with the greatest ability to upset the All Blacks. John Smit has been a great servant for South African rugby, but the decision whether to start him or Bismarck du Plessis at hooker is a tough one the selectors will have to make. I know some of the senior guys are coming to the end of the careers, but I do believe they have one last hurrah left in them.
Best result: Champions (1995, 2007)
Prediction: Pool winners. Will reach the semi-finals - ultimately losing to New Zealand.SAMOA
The Samoans have some physical power upfront and they are blessed with some dangerous backs. In their recent win over Australia, they were quite physical and then they had guys like Tuilagi to finish off. While it was a huge confidence boost beating Australia, it is also a double-edged sword with teams now aware of the threats they pose. Had they gone into the World Cup a little more under they radar, they may well have caught a few teams cold, but after they upset the Wallabies, the other teams in their pool won’t take them lightly. They are a side with a host of big, imposing men, and although the side is scattered in all parts of the globe, they play well as a unit. Leister Tiger’s Alesana Tuilagi is an imposing figure and a fine finisher. Fullback Paul Williams has played Super Rugby in New Zealand and is another quality back. They are a very good side, but when it comes to playing the likes of South Africa, I feel they are just too strong for them. I think set-piece time is where the Samoans struggle most. That said, they are a better side now than the one that competed in the 2007 World Cup. I think the Samoans will cause the shock of the pool and beat Wales.
Best result: Quarter-finalists (1991, 1995)
Prediction: Second in pool. Losing quarter-finalistsWALES
They began very well at the start of Warren Gatland’s tenure, but they have largely struggled since then. I believe they lack the grunt and sheer physical power upfront. I don’t think they can match up to South Africa’s forward pack. Fiji and Samoa are also able to match them upfront and the problem is that Wales have spoken about playing an expansive game. If you look at their key match-up with Samoa – I think the odds are stacked firmly in Samoa’s favour. In their backline, I think centre Jamie Roberts is a very good player as is young wing James North. James Hook, predominantly a flyhalf, is a very talented player, who also offers an option at centre. Mike Phillips is a very physical and solid scrumhalf albeit his service is not that quick. However, there are no massive game breakers in that backline. Shane Williams is probably their best game breaker, but is a player very much coming to the end of his career. Their front row is solid, so their set piece should be up to scratch. I don’t think their locks or loose forwards are anything special – although open side flanker and new skipper, Sam Warburton is one to watch.
Best result: Third place (1987)
Prediction: Third in pool
I don’t rate Fiji’s chances too highly. Up front, I believe they will struggle. Their set piece is an area of concern and if a side like South Africa plays a structured game against them, they will struggle. However, as we saw at the 2007 event, if the game is loose and opens up they can be dangerous on their day. I am aware they have got some key players back since they were hammered by the All Blacks, but that day they were smashed by an All Black side also not at full strength. They have had all sorts of internal problems in their country. I think there has just been too much off-field turmoil, and I feel they have huge problems heading to the World Cup. Fijian players are blessed with great skills and their success on the Sevens circuit is indicative of this. However, the crux of the matter is they are not strong set piece players. All the Pacific Island teams battle with the structured side of the game. They have always battled in that area and I see the same issues arising. I honestly believe that they will win only one game in the pool and that will be against Namibia.
Best result: Quarter-finalists (1987, 2007)
Prediction: Fourth in poolNAMIBIA
There has not been much to make of Namibia’s performances in their most recent fixtures. However, when the overseas-based player such as Jacques Nieuwenhuis, Piet van Zyl and skipper and Saracens stalwart Jacques Burger return to the side, they are a much different proposition. They have a few guys plying their trade abroad and in South Africa, but to be frank I think they will really struggle. However, I wouldn’t like to say they are the weakest side at the World Cup, as we have not yet seen them playing with their full strength side. That said, they are certainly the weakest in their pool. The Welwitschias’s performance in the Vodacom Cup wasn’t good and nor was their display in the Nations Cup. Their front five is not particularly strong, and their greatest strength in the pack is their loose trio. Pieter-Jan van Lill, alongside Burger and Nieuwenhuis is a decent combination. When their big name players are available, I would see them proving competitive against other tier-two nations. They have unfortunately been drawn in a tough group. Namibia produces some decent rugby players, but they are a small population and the majority of their good schoolboy players head off to South Africa and often end up representing the Springboks. The most famous Namibian-born Springbok of the modern era is Percy Montgomery. They are simply unable to retain their best talent. The Namibian league is also of a very low standard.
Best result: Last in pool
Prediction: Last in poolAlan Solomons's Pool A preview
Alan Solomons's Pool B preview
Alan Solomons's Pool C previewAlan 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:
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