A do-or-die mindset will shape the Springboks’ physical and tactical approach between now and the end of their World Cup campaign, writes JON CARDINELLI in Omaezaki.
The Boks have moved to Omaezaki for the buildup to the pool match against Italy in Shizuoka. They couldn’ t have picked a better spot to reset and plan for the challenge that lies ahead.
The hotel on the hill, complete with a chandelier in the lobby, screams luxury. The resort has its own golf course and spa.
That said, there are times when you feel like you’re sitting in Japan’s answer to the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. It’s quiet and isolated and probably the perfect spot for Rassie Erasmus to tweak and revise his World Cup manuscript.
Assistant coach Matt Proudfoot made all the right noises at the media conference on Monday. The coaches and players are talking up the Italy side as if they are the All Blacks and hyping up the next game in Shizuoka as if it’s the World Cup final.
Bok flyhalf Handre Pollard took this further when addressing a relatively small pod of reporters on Monday. The players are going out of their way to put extra pressure on themselves to get things right. The weather may limit their accuracy, but there’s no reason, according to Pollard, why they shouldn’t be executing their game plan to a more telling degree.
The town of Omaezaki is eerily quiet. There are beautiful beaches. There are giant spider webs that wouldn’t be out of place in Shehlob’s lair, blocking the trails and pathways that run through the forest near the Hamaoka dunes.
There isn’t much World Cup hype out here. For a team that has much to ponder as the playoffs draw near, it’s the perfect place to prepare for the next phase of the campaign.
Frans Steyn spelled it out for the South African journalists after the game against Namibia last Saturday. There isn’t a secret formula to winning the World Cup. The team that plays less and makes fewer mistakes will win the big matches and eventually the Webb Ellis Cup.
It may not be a popular opinion among romantics who believe that professional rugby is about entertainment rather than winning. I would be surprised if anybody complained, however, if the Boks go on to win the tournament via an approach built on sharp tactical kicking and counter-attacking play. You can bet your last yen that other big contenders like the All Blacks, Ireland and England will be using a similar approach later in the competition.
Pollard went out of his way to make this point. Heavy rain is expected in Shizuoka on Friday, and that should force a more conservative approach from both teams. While handling will become easier when the humidity drops later this month, the better teams are unlikely to play more expansively in World Cup knockout matches where the stakes are high.
The Boks have started to talk the talk. They didn’t produce a convincing tactical performance against the All Blacks two weeks ago, though, and will be under pressure to execute more effectively against Italy.
The word ‘desperate’ has been used by the coaches and players to describe the situation. The Boks have to beat Italy to qualify for the playoffs.
Their tactical performance will be under scrutiny, though. How they fare in this department will reveal where they are in relation to the major title contenders on the eve of the playoffs.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets