The Springboks’ ticket to the World Cup final hinges on a sharper attacking and aerial display against Wales, writes JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo.
The Boks have the personnel and the game plan to win the World Cup. What they are lacking at present, however, is the ability to pull the trigger once they have their quarry cornered and subdued.
Let’s give credit where it is emphatically due. Their defensive effort has been gargantuan. You had to be at the Tokyo Stadium on Sunday evening to truly appreciate the quality of their physicality and timing in this department.
The Boks did their homework on the much-hyped Japan attack. When the moment arrived to execute, the players threw themselves into the tackle with the commitment of a kamikaze pilot.
The scrum and mauling performances were equally eye-catching. I haven’t seen a South African maul march an opposition team 40-plus metres since the Bok pack bulldozed the British & Irish Lions in the first Test of the 2009 series.
That was some statement, and the forward coaches of Wales, England and New Zealand would have taken note.
Which leads me to my lament. How is it that the Boks are dominating to such a degree and not getting the territorial and attacking rewards? There appears to be a disconnect between the pack and the backline beyond individual handling errors, and Erasmus and his coaching team would do well to address this issue as soon as possible.
Wales were exposed by France during the early stages of the quarter-final in Oita. They don’t appear to be as settled or as strong as they were when they won the Six Nations in March.
That said, they have the set piece to challenge South Africa, as Duane Vermeulen pointed out on Sunday night. They also have the kicking game to disrupt the Boks at the back. Four excellent set-piece and aerial showings have yielded four straight wins for Wales over South Africa since 2016.
Japan did not punish the Boks’ mistakes. They did not make the Boks regret their missed opportunities or the string of penalties that they conceded in the first half. We’ve reached the business end of the tournament now, though, and the better teams won’t let the Boks off the hook
New Zealand, England and South Africa will advance to the semi-finals on the back of outstanding defensive showings. We all know that defence wins World Cups, but history also tells us that teams need to take every chance on offer if they want to lift the title.
Andrew Merthens famously missed a drop goal in the dying moments of the 1995 decider. Joel Stransky took his chance in extra time, and in doing so catapulted the Boks to a monumental victory.
Erasmus’ Boks may not enjoy extended periods of dominance in the next week or so, and they may not have as many chances to score tries or kick for goal.
When they do have their opponents cornered for a fleeting moment, they must be ruthless. It’s a quality that all World Cup winners possess.
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