The Springboks’ execution of a more versatile approach will be in the spotlight when they battle Namibia on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI in Nagoya.
On Monday, I asked assistant coach Matt Proudfoot how the coaches and players were feeling now that the much-hyped battle between the Boks and All Blacks was done and dusted.
The days leading up to the World Cup clash in Yokohama were not short on drama. For those of us who attended the respective press conferences in Tokyo, it was clear that both groups were desperate to get onto the park and prove a point.
Proudfoot began his response to my question with a long sigh. That in itself was an answer.
The Boks won’t have to deal with that kind of pressure again until a probable meeting with Ireland in the quarter-finals. While the squad has other objectives to realise in the buildup to the playoffs, the Boks are unlikely to be tested by Namibia, Italy or Canada like they were tested by the All Blacks.
That said, there’s been a good buzz around the team hotel in Nagoya and around the training ground in Ichinomiya this past week.
The locals have embraced the Boks, and this was no more apparent than at an open training session on Wednesday when several thousand people donned Bok jerseys and braved the stifling heat and humidity to get a closer look at the South Africans.
The players have been in a good space and Rassie Erasmus’ move to make a host of changes should ensure that the team goes into the clash against Namibia with the right mindset. The Bok coach should have a good idea about who to start against Italy next week and possibly against Ireland in the playoffs. A strong performance or two in the coming game, however, may give him food for thought.
Frans Steyn will start his first Test in seven years. There’s been a lot of talk about Steyn as the solution to South Africa’s problems at No 12 – even though Damian de Allende was solid last week – and the 2007 World Cup-winner will finally get a chance to fire in tandem with the first-choice No 13 Lukhanyo Am.
The big talking point, though, is Erasmus’ selections in the back row. Every player and coach who has been asked about Schalk Brits this week has failed to suppress a smile. The 38-year-old is expected to bring a lot of energy to his new role at No 8.
Brits, Francois Louw and Kwagga Smith all have the ability to force turnovers at the breakdown. Brits and Smith have the speed and skills to amplify a counterstrike and one gets the feeling that Namibia could be in for a long evening on Saturday if they don’t protect the ball and keep the game structured.
The Boks may look to lift the tempo across the board. There’s been a big focus on handling at training this week, and coaches like Felix Jones have been pushing the players to be more accurate.
Assistant coach Jacques Nienaber said on Wednesday that the changes to the starting XV should not be used as an excuse for a lack of synergy. The Boks will be looking to play a quicker game and the key to their success will be the accuracy of their passes and the quality of their support lines. It’s encouraging to hear that they are putting pressure on themselves to get that right.
They would do well to keep the bigger picture in mind, though. They have to strike a balance between kicking and running as only a more varied approach will unlock the defences of the better teams in the knockout stages.
Springboks – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Schalk Brits (c), 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Steven Kitshoff, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Eben Etzebeth, 19 Siya Kolisi, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Damian de Allende, 23 Cheslin Kolbe.
Namibia – 15 Johan Tromp, 14 Chad Plato, 13 JC Greyling, 12 PJ Walters, 11 Lesley Klim, 10 Cliven Loubser, 9 Eugene Jantjies, 8 Adriaan Booysen, 7 Max Katjijeko, 6 Thomasau Forbes, 5 Tjiuee Uanivi (c), 4 Johan Retief, 3 AJ De Klerk , 2 Louis van der Westhuizen, 1 Des Sethie.
Subs: 16 Obert Nortje, 17 Andre Rademeyer, 18 Johannes Coetzee, 19 Prince !Gaoseb, 20 Janco Venter, 21 Wian Condradie, 22 Helarius Axasman Kisting, 23 Johan Deysel.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets