Smart money on All Blacks

2011-10-12 10:23
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Alan Solomons

Big games are all about taking your opportunities and unfortunately, the Boks failed to take theirs when it mattered most. Individual errors ultimately cost them a place in the semi-finals.

Not much has been made of Jean de Villiers's 'forward pass' to Pat Lambie. It didn’t look forward to me, but one would have thought De Villiers could have made sure of that pass as Lambie was in the clear. That was a golden opportunity wasted. Fourie du Preez knocking on the ball with an open tryline and Lambie’s narrow drop goal miss were other key moments in the match.

Bryce Lawrence certainly has his critics, and many have complained about his management of the breakdown, but in truth - despite dominating the second half in most facets - the Boks failed to take their opportunities and translate pressure into points.

The breakdown is a difficult area to officiate. While some say David Pocock got away with murder - he is one of the foremost exponents of the art. Heinrich Brussow going off injured early on was a factor, but Francois Louw acquitted himself well. Pocock was just the master on the day.

Hindsight gives you 50/50 vision, but it’s possible that had the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Gio Aplon and Francois Hougaard started, it could have made a difference. In particular, a guy like Aplon could have given the Boks more strike-power out wide. However, the Boks were committed to a particular strategy and thus loyal to certain personnel.

It is an exciting new dawn for South African rugby as a new captain and coach will be named. The point of debate will be whether that new era should have begun before the World Cup in terms of playing personnel.

Peter de Villiers’s four-year tenure has been a mixed bag. He’s had his ups and downs, but he will point to the British Lions series win and Tri-Nations title in 2009 as highlights.

Some top candidates will make themselves available for the job. I think Allister Coetzee could well get the nod. He has done exceptionally well as a head coach at both Currie Cup and Super Rugby level, and also boasts experience at national level having won the World Cup as Jake White’s backline coach.

It’s intriguing that of the four remaining World Cup coaches, three are New Zealanders. There is no doubt they produce very fine coaches, but that is not to say South Africa doesn’t. It’s an interesting fact, but I don’t think New Zealand necessarily has the magic formula when it comes to coaches.

Few would have predicted a Wales v France semi-final, myself included. The French have been very lucky to have got as far as they have. To have lost two pool games and still qualify was a real stroke of fortune, and down to a weak pool overall.

France have the talent, but Wales have the momentum. While the criticism seems to have galvanised the French, I believe they produced their game of the tournament against England.

While I don’t believe Wales will get an edge upfront, they will gain parity and from an all round perspective have enough to triumph. I think their backline has done incredibly well. Mike Phillips is a superb scrumhalf with an eye for the gap, and flyhalf Rhys Priestland has shown a lot of maturity (it will be a big loss if he’s not fit for the semi-final).

For me, Jamie Roberts is the best No 12 in world rugby at the moment. He was on fire against Ireland and should have been awarded the man of the match accolade. He is such a powerful runner and is equally fierce on defence.

I wouldn’t write off Wales, but one would tend to think the winner of the Australia v New Zealand clash will take the title. I think the New Zealand pack is stronger and will gain set-piece supremacy.

There are still real question marks over Quade Cooper’s ability to manage a pressure game - he was poor against the Boks - and I think the Aussies should opt for Berrick Barnes at inside centre to try to mitigate this factor.

To beat the All Blacks, Australia will have to deliver an 80-minute performance reminiscent of their Tri-Nations win in Brisbane. That’s a tough ask against a determined All Black side playing on a ground that has become a fortress.

While Piri Weepu is an outstanding rugby brain and has tremendous nous, I would go for Aaron Cruden at flyhalf as he has more experience in that position and can dictate play on attack. I am not in favour of a re-treaded scrumhalf at No 10.

The clash between McCaw and Pocock at the breakdown is poised to be a cracker. They are both outstanding players, but I feel that if the All Blacks gain set-piece ascendancy, McCaw will prove more of a threat.

However, if the Australians manage to gain parity up front, and get some momentum to unleash their backs, they will be dangerous. Argentina showed that if you play a high-tempo game against New Zealand, their defence can be unlocked.

The Wallabies will take plenty of confidence from their quarter-final win, where they were under the pump for the bulk of the match and yet kept the Boks try-less.

It will be an epic encounter, but I fancy the All Blacks to sneak home.

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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