Stephen Donald suggests the Springboks may have deliberately lost to Ireland in their World Cup Pool B clash, to avoid facing New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
Speaking on New Zealand’s SENZ radio, the former All Black flyhalf also praised the competitiveness of Saturday’s 13-8 result between the world’s No 1 and 2 teams, while highlights potential weaknesses in the Irish set piece – particularly their lineout – which the Boks disrupted effectively in the first half.
South Africa were undefeated in two matches, having mauled minnows Romania after an opening round win against Scotland, and Jacques Nienaber’s men will now turn their attention to their final group clash with Tonga in Marseille on Sunday.
The South Africans lost their opening pool match to New Zealand in 2019 before going on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, and potentially face hosts France or old enemies New Zealand in the last eight at this year’s tournament.
“Deep down, would you ever put it past the South Africans to go, ‘Do we want the All Blacks in a quarter-final? I think we take this route,’” Donald said.
“It was a brutal old thing, wasn’t it? It was everything you’d hope for in a game… it could’ve been the final, it was that sort of intensity and that sort of quality.”
He believes that if the All Blacks and other rival teams were watching on Saturday, they could learn from it, especially by not allowing blockbuster centre Bundee Aki the same freedom in midfield in future.
“But for me, and I’m looking at it through my All Black rose tinted glasses, if you’re the All Blacks, you’re sitting back and watching that, you disrupt the Irish set-piece and therefore you win that first contact and that first phase, I don’t know what Ireland’s got to go to,” Donald said.
“You watch that first half where a South African lineout absolutely destroyed the Irish, they couldn’t get any of their game going.
“The Irish got one lineout, one five-man lineout going, and all of a sudden they got within an inch of scoring.
“It’s a done deal that they’re probably the best phase play attack in all of rugby. When they get going and humming, their phase play is brilliant.
“However, if you can stifle them at the set-piece and stifle them at that first ruck which goes hand in hand, there’s not a whole lot they go to.
“Yes Bundee Aki was brilliant in the midfield – I can’t believe that Bundee Aki will have that sort of freedom against anyone else now.”
Photo: World Rugby