World Cup Preview: South Africa

Group D Opposition: Wales, Samoa, Fiji, Namibia

Pedigree: Very impressive. Not invited to the first two tournaments because of the whole apartheid thing, they promptly and memorably won it all at the first attempt (with a little help from Suzie) and repeated the trick in France in 2007. Two wins from four is the best hit ratio of them all.

Players to watch: He might be behind Moondust Steyn and Spear James in the reckoning for the 10 shirt, but Patrick Lambie is the most exciting youngster in South African rugby right now, and if the Bokke look more one dimensional than usual, he could make an impact from the bench. Jean de Villiers might not have impressed Mick O’Driscoll much, but he is half of one of the best centre partnerships in the world, and will be anxious to impress after missing the 2003 edition, and most of 2007 one, through injury. In 2009, Heinrich Brussouw tortured the Lions and has been laid up since – if he hits form, he will create the breakdown mayhem Saracens South Africa will need to progress. Bismarck du Plessis is the best hooker in the world (sorry, Sean Cronin fans).

Good tournament: With their pedigree, signing off a great team by retaining the trophy would be nice.

Bad tournament: Ireland have a decent record against the Boks of late, and losing to Paddy Wallace and co. in the quarter final won’t go down well in the highveldt.

Prospects: It may seem astonishing now, but in the run up to the 2007 tournament, the general feeling was the Springboks were a bit too callow and inconsistent to take home the trophy. In the event, the side, suberbly marshalled by John Smit with a little help from Botha, Matfield and du Preez, steamed home. Only England in the final gave them a game, although the Tongans gave their reserves a few dicey moments.

That set forth a 3 year domination of world rugby, encompassing 3 Super Rugby titles (including the Bulls just before RWC07), a Tri-Nations and a Lions tour victory. 2009 was their peak, when they followed the Lions win by beating the All Blacks 3 times.

However, since then, they have gradually ran out of puff, and are facing down the barrel of a first ever Tri-Nations whitewash. Their old guard are looking less durable than ever, and the younger men aren’t demanding to step into the shirt. The team is backboned by triple Super Rugby winners the Blue Bulls, who put together a defiant run in the latter stages of this years Super Rugby, but then failed to make the play-offs with a limp loss at home to the Sharks in the last day of the regular season.

Ironically then, its a Sharks player who is the biggest problem – the captain John Smit. Due to Bismarck’s consistent excellence, Smit is being shoe-horned into the team at tight-head, but to the detriment of the scrum. As evidenced by the humiliation of being shoved around Durban by the Australian pack.

Ally this to the comically mis-named Beast, injured stalwarts like Juan Smith and Fourie du Preez, no defined 10, and a far-from-intimidating collection of outside backs, and things do not look rosey. They still hit the rucks harder than any other team and will play a tactically simple but very effective bosh and boot game, aiming to contest the breakdown agressively and grind teams down, but it’s exhausting, and you must wonder are the bodies still able.

Verdict: The pool is likely to be about as dangerous as an Ian Humphreys tackle. The talented Samoans will fancy taking one of the big guns, but muscle memory and physical power alone should get the Boks through with 4 wins. After that, it’s going to be Ireland in a quarter-final. That is going to be one of the best games of the tournament, but without pre-empting our Ireland preview, whoever wins will be swatted aside by New Zealand. One way or another, this great Springbok team is going to run out of road. We’ll always have the Second Lions Test in 2009 – the team’s zenith, and one of the best games of all time.

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6 Comments

  1. The Namibs have a bloke called Egbertus O'Callerghan in their RWC squad. What sort of lineage do you reckon that could be? Didn't Ireland tour there in the late 80s early 90s….?

  2. Brilliant. Is that as good as Chauncey O'Toole?I recall that tour – in the depth of the Bad Old Days – we got whitewashed .. by Namibia!!

  3. I think it's up there EC. If only Santiago Phelan was still available for the Pumas…

  4. He's the coach now no?

  5. Lads can't believe Chilliboy Ralepelle hasn't been mentioned in the best name stakes!I wouldn't be just as hard on the Boks, they may be on the wrong side of the hill but they still aren't that desperately far from the top. That jaw droppingly physical Lions game was only two years ago-we happily go on about our grand slam golden generation. If you were picking a world best team you would still at least be discussing: Du Plessis, Botha, Matfield, Broussow, Spies, Du Preez, that over-rated winger from your previous post(!?) and you have mentioned their centre partnership as among the world's best. Put it like this-Paul O'Connell wouldn't walk into their team. It will be a mammoth challenge for Ireland to beat them and would be an exceptional result. Life would be considerably easier if Ireland were to beat Australia.

  6. All good points – and well illustrated yesterday!I think Bismarck, Matfield, Brusouw and the centres are among the best around. Du Preez isn't quite as good with the new rules, I think he lacks pace.The problems are that scrum, Morne (very limited if the boot plan doesn't work) and the outside backs. I still don't buy the Habana thing, and Pietersen, Kirchner, Aplon and Basson are poor. Equally Spies I'm not sure about – a big lad and a phenomenal athlete sure, but does he have the football?I think right now they should beat us, but NZ away is a stretch…

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