Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)
London – The stakes seem way too high for South Africa, fielding a virtually full-strength side, to suffer another “Japan” and potentially bow out of a World Cup at the group stage for the first time by coming a cropper at the hands of the 16th-ranked United States on Wednesday.
Here are six confident reasons why the Springboks, at the Olympic Stadium here, won’t cause any palpitations back home and instead march with some comfort into the knockout phase:
1 The Boks have their heads screwed on so much better than when they crashed in Brighton
When they opened their account against the Brave Blossoms, all the media talk was about how many points they would dispose of the Japanese by ... would it be 50, 60 or even 80 or 90, maybe? Maybe the Boks were inadvertently sucked in by the hype. On a simply sublime day for the rank underdogs, they also caught the Boks cold, and underprepared. There will be no such complacency again; Heyneke Meyer has gone to great pains to keep using words like “humility” and “respecting all opponents” for every Pool B clash since, including this one. Picking almost all of his A-teamers is certainly paying the USA a hefty compliment, isn’t it? Only there will be no charity, no mercy, come the game itself.
2 It doesn’t even need to be pretty
As assistant coach Johann van Graan effectively said at the final press briefing on Tuesday ahead of the clash, the Boks don’t have to paint a masterpiece against the Americans: “We’ve (only) got to win by one point or more to get to the quarter-finals.” And he is correct on that front: the Boks cannot even be nudged out of top-placed group finish if they win without four tries, because they would still advance to 15 points and only Scotland can still get to that many. But having beaten those particular foes already, the Boks would stay supreme on that basis. They ONLY NEED TO WIN!
3 Eddie Jones doesn’t coach USA
With the greatest of respect to the United States’ coach Mike Tolkin, a former English teacher at Xavier High School in New York, he isn’t Eddie Jones, that cunning mastermind of the Bok embarrassment down on the south coast a few weeks back. Never forget that Jones still had a bit of a foot in the door of the Bok culture and psyche, given his trumpeted consultancy role in their Webb Ellis Cup triumph of 2007 – some of those personnel remain in the current frame. In fairness to Tolkin, too, Japan have probably moved onto higher ground for team quality now, as evidenced by current World Rugby rankings: Japan lie 11th, five berths better, and I tip them also to beat the USA in the pool’s very last fixture on Sunday.
4 Being tattooed by the same guy who did SBW’s body art doesn’t automatically make you dangerous
You come across various curiosities and quirks when you do some online research on some of the US players chosen for Wednesday’s clash ... and significantly not all of it has to do with rugby. You learn, for instance, that centre Andrew Suniula, a pretty strapping fellow at 102kg, has been tattooed by Steve Ma Ching (all hail the great man), who also did body art on multi-skilled All Black maestro Sonny Bill Williams. But that isn’t an automatic ticket to running straight through Damian de Allende’s channel, is it?
5 Duane Vermeulen and Fourie du Preez have made a humungous difference since Brighton
Let’s face it, there was rightful doubt about Meyer’s extreme faith in these two coming (quite literally) to the RWC party ... Vermeulen after the complex matter of neck surgery and Du Preez because he had played painfully little rugby of any kind for the best part of a year. But they’re here, and they have given a massively constructive, fresh dimension to the Boks at Nos 8 and 9 respectively. We already knew they were fulsomely world-class before the tournament, and all they have done is majestically underline it. So far so good, in each instance. Du Preez’s competitive juices have also been shrewdly stirred by the coach, in making him the stand-in captain.
6 Lightning doesn’t strike the same place (OK, team) twice
That’s how legend has it, even if meteorologists might protest that lightning CAN, in fact, hit the same target again. But let’s stick with the legend, shall we? The Boks have had their Brighton Blitz; they won’t be rocked by a Stratford Sizzle. Besides, I am the Boks’ self-appointed RWC talisman. I hadn’t arrived yet when they went down to Japan; I have since “presided” over two encouraging victories from the Birmingham and Newcastle press boxes. My hat-trick will be completed tomorrow when South Africa win by ... 25 points or more. You heard it here first.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.