Handre Pollard (Gallo)
Cape Town – Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is likely to tell his charges to avoid any special panic when it comes to scoreboard accumulation against the minnows of Japan in their RWC 2015 opener at Brighton on Saturday (17:45 SA time).
There have been instances in the past, after all, when strongly-fancied teams have laboured to put away rank outsiders by really big margins at World Cups because they have fallen into a trap of complacency or simply tried to be too fancy too quickly.
The gist of the pre-match message from Meyer to his troops should not depart too much from: “subdue first ... then penetrate”.
In other words, do some proper, honest yards to ensure a territorial and possession-based superiority, and the rest will hopefully follow fairly naturally.
It seems as if Meyer is going to announce a side -- on Wednesday -- that will feature several notably rusty members of his squad, returning from injuries or rehabilitation periods of varying durations.
Under such circumstances, his charges may be excused for requiring the first quarter, say, to reacclimatise to the demands of match-play before any expectations kick in of giving the world No 13-ranked Japanese a serious whipping.
To borrow cricketing parlance, that’s the equivalent of the opening batsmen “having a good look” at the bowling before going into any conscious attack mode.
Yet Meyer will also know deep down that his team will be expected by the majority of pundits and supporters to win the Pool B fixture by a sizeable margin – at the very least, to secure a four-try bonus point (that system was first introduced to the World Cup at the 2003 tournament and has remained intact for every RWC since).
But if we dare to assume the Boks will register a minimum of four tries without too much fuss what, then, does constitute that “sizeable margin” in final scoreboard terms?
My guess, if conditions are acceptably conducive to running rugby – and forecasts at this stage suggest they should be at the Community Stadium, come the weekend – is that a Bok triumph by anything less than 35-40 points will be widely branded a sub-standard performance, regardless of how they actually do play collectively or just how tenacious the underdogs prove to be.
For while a fair bit has been made in the global media in the lead-up about how some of the less fashionable rugby nations have begun to close the gap on various, supposed superpowers, the RWC history books still tell you that Japan have a tendency to be truly walloped by major rugby countries and especially those from the southern hemisphere (although they have not previously ever played the Boks).
Video nasties include the 83-7 reverse to New Zealand in 2011, 91-3 loss to Australia in 2007, and that 145-17 drubbing from the All Blacks in Bloemfontein during the 1995 event – still the record for most points posted by a team at RWC.
So Meyer, at the end of the day, is jammed between a rock and a hard place ... it will not be foolhardy or overly negative of him to urge his men to stay composed if it doesn’t exactly rain tries the Bok way initially.
But will there nevertheless be some “scoreboard pressure” to put Japan away by a pretty gaping margin? Especially given the unusually ropey Bok record in Tests thus far in 2015, and the associated need to start looking like potential RWC title-grabbers as quickly as possible, you bet there will ...
*Here are all Japan’s RWC tournament results down the years, from most recent:
2011: L France 47-21, L New Zealand 83-7, L Tonga 31-18, D Canada 23-23
2007: L Australia 91-3, L Fiji 35-31, L Wales 72-18, D Canada 12-12
2003: L Scotland 32-11, L France 51-29, L Fiji 41-13, L United States 39-26
1999: L Samoa 43-9, L Wales 64-15, L Argentina 33-12
1995: L Wales 57-10, L Ireland 50-28, L New Zealand 145-17
1991: L Scotland 47-9, L Ireland 32-16, W Zimbabwe 52-8
1987: L United States 21-18, L England 60-7, L Australia 42-23
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing