Cape Town - Route one … or bust.
That so clearly appears to be the earnest Springbok game-plan for Saturday’s World Cup final against more strongly fancied England at Yokohama (11:00 SA time).
Bok head coach Rassie Erasmus has steadfastly deployed - fitness dependant, in solely the case of Cheslin Kolbe for one week - both the same starting XV and bench personnel for the quarter-final and semi-final, and now into the grand showpiece as well.
Neither of the two Bok knockout clashes has been a classic spectacle thus far, yet main purpose achieved.
It has also unsurprisingly persuaded in Erasmus the retention of his risk-laden, six-two split between forwards and backs in his substitutes’ arsenal: in many ways, that alone is a dead giveaway of the ultra-conservative formula the Boks will pin their hopes of an upset on against Eddie Jones’s increasingly well-rounded, multi-pronged troops.
The South African plan is for a tight, unashamedly dazzle-neutralising arm-wrestle … and even the more romantic of rugby lovers might be advised not to sigh too instantly or deeply into their “spook and diesel”, as RWC finals are traditionally eked out in that manner anyway.
Show me how much oil-painting quality there was to coo about in the try-less 1995 or 2007 finals, or the one-try-only occasion of 1991 … or even 2011, when even the hosts and supposed “total rugby” devotees New Zealand eventually out-bludgeoned France 8-7?
There will be no shame, then, if a box-kick-obsessed Springbok outfit, crucially getting the execution side of things as close to spot-on as possible, grinds out an uncompromising, bone-crunching victory – not in our ecstatic part of the planet, that’s for sure.
All that matters in a final, after all, in the immortal words of Oom Boy Louw, is the “looks at the scoreboard” outcome.
An understandable fear among many Bok supporters will be the possibility that a confidence-oozing England side, fresh off convincing, up-tempo defeats of both Australia and New Zealand in their own knockout passage, find some mojo fast in the final, and roar out in front by more than a full score or two.
Immediately, that would trigger at least the start of an enforced shift in mindset among Siya Kolisi and company, suddenly tasked with more of a catch-up requirement and where hoisting 50-50 balls into the cool skies above the second-largest Japanese city isn’t automatically going to bring the oomph required for a Bok clawback.
But are these Springboks really so suffocatingly robotic, anyway?
There is sufficient - and then some, actually - evidence to the contrary during Erasmus’s tenure, where ability to engineer tries has seldom been a thorn in their collective flesh: at the World Cup alone, they are both leading try (31) and points (230) scorers, just for example, even if those figures can be considered a little diluted through often deceptive exposure to several “minnow” encounters.
But if the Boks do need to find a turbo mode in their gearing, slightly against their current instincts, recent history against these opponents offers a surprising amount of hope.
They produced oodles of fleet-footed, deft-handed artistry and pace in that rollercoaster first home Test of three (2-1 series outcome in SA favour) against England in Johannesburg last year, dotting five tries in the 42-39 triumph … and just as significantly having done so from the seemingly punch-drunk situation of 24-3 and three tries to nil down with less than quarter of the game played out.
Yes, Saturday’s final is highly likely to be well less “breathless”, and not just because it will be slugged out at an altitude of a nominal 10 metres above sea level rather than the Jo’burg’s altogether more stamina-testing 1,753.
Five of the seven starting Bok back-liners at Ellis Park that day - yes, including much-debated scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and under-fire fullback Willie le Roux - will be at their same posts again for this red-letter date.
On the subject of De Klerk: while his largely one-dimensional method of play, clearly strongly under orders, in the knockout phase of this tournament has aroused enormously mixed emotions, a couple of instances in the generally grim-viewing semi-final did send out reminders that he is hardly beyond redemption for more of an X-factor presence.
There was that surprise, early blindside snipe off a scrum that briefly caught the Welsh defence off guard, while his commendably rapid switch of direction played a pivotal part in the lead-up to Damian de Allende’s try marked by the centre’s relentlessly determined leg drive.
Look, the Boks want to win this one, against the odds, predominantly in the brickyard, where their earthiest, crudest qualities come to the fore.
But they also not incapable of doing so by turning Yokohama International Stadium into some semblance of an aesthetically-pleasing “botanical garden” if necessary.
Either way, I give them a viable enough 45 percent shot at glory, playing against a colour of jersey that so often gives them a constructive whiff of cordite and special urgency.
15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Curry, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Substitutes: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Dan Cole, 19 George Kruis, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Jonathan Joseph
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn
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