Boks building momentum

2011-09-28 15:09
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Alan Solomons

So far, it has been a very good Rugby World Cup for South Africa both on-field and off. While they narrowly overcame Wales in their first game, the Welsh have since proved a powerful side - and are one of the northern hemisphere’s top teams at the tournament.

GALLERY: Bakkies Botha gives it horns

Peter de Villiers has been in the job for a while now and is certainly being circumspect in his analysis and comments. He receives good advice from his aides and the campaign for South Africa has thus been largely incident free.

The Boks were certainly underdone coming into the tournament, but they have improved their play as the tournament has progressed.

I think South Africa face a strong challenge against Samoa this Friday. The Samoans have really improved their set-pieces and play with a lot more structure. This is allied to their physical prowess and explosiveness. They are a very dynamic side and I trust it will be a very physical game, with the Samoans going all out to qualify. 

The Boks need to get past Samoa before they start thinking of the playoffs. Their strategy will be to play for field position and hold onto the ball in the right parts of the field. It will be a direct, confrontational approach from the Boks and they are likely to kick their goals before they go wide and set about breaking down Samoa’s defence.

The Boks, with Bismarck du Plessis a notable starter, have selected a very physical side. John Smit hasn’t played badly in the pool stages, but if Bismarck has another blinder, the selectors will have a tough decision to make heading into the playoffs.

With the return of Victor Matfield, he will resume control of the lineouts and Danie Rossouw will take on Bakkies Botha’s role as the tighter of the two locks. He will provide plenty of scrummaging power, physicality and ball carrying. Rossouw will relish the physicality and we can expect another big performance from him.

In terms of the loose trio, I would never leave out Heinrich Brussow or Schalk Burger, so it comes down to what type of No 8 you prefer. Pierre Spies has a lot more pace around the park than Willem Alberts, but the latter is more bruising on defence. Spies has been on the front foot for the bulk of the games thus far, but question marks remain over his defence in the tighter games. I think Spies primarily gets the nod because of an all-Bulls nexus at 8, 9 and 10.

Frans Steyn has played very well and is now the incumbent at inside centre. Steyn offers a direct, confrontational approach. Jean de Villiers’s return to the bench adds more depth to the side as he can cover both centre and wing.

Having a strong bench coming on in the second half makes a huge difference. The impact South Africa’s bench players have made has been immense and I think people are starting to appreciate the value of 22 players. You want a bench player that is not covering for an injury, but one that can make a real difference.

Francois Hougaard is an absolutely outstanding footballer and is a perfect example. He has made a huge difference as an impact player and gives the Boks the option of going for the 5/2 forwards to backs split on the bench.

The All Blacks have also made very good use of their bench. They’ve always been liberal as far that goes, have adopted the right policy and have given everyone game time. The All Blacks have been dominant, but thus far have been in control of every match and are yet to be truly tested.

I still see the All Blacks as the team to beat. It’s a massive advantage playing at home. When Richie McCaw and Dan Carter play, it gives the team direction and strong leadership. Carter offers another dimension at ten.

Ireland’s win over Australia points to the type of tactics many sides will employ in the playoffs. They had a focus on shutting down the Australians forwards, thereby blunting their dangerous backs.

Australia are very much a team that thrives on momentum. By targeting their set-piece and fracturing their initial possession, the Irish made life very challenging for them. That game was a useful example of the correct strategy that can be applied to break down the Southern hemisphere sides.

In terms of tactical ploys, there is no doubt that the drop goal is still seen as a major weapon. It’s a ploy that is likely to be of great benefit heading into the tighter play-off matches.

I think Italy are in with a chance of beating Ireland, but that said, the Irish now have the bit between their teeth. Their win over Australia has generated plenty of confidence and momentum.

While Italy will compete upfront, they don’t have the firepower in their backline. Ireland have a very good chance of advancing deep into this 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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