The Springboks have four weeks to sharpen their aerial and kicking skills ahead of a likely quarter-final showdown with Ireland, writes JON CARDINELLI in Nagoya.
‘See you in the final,’ a New Zealand journalist said to me as he departed the Yokohama Stadium on Saturday evening. Like many of the writers in the media centre, he was predicting a rematch between the All Blacks and Boks at the same venue on 2 November.
I thought about this statement as I watched Ireland dismantle Scotland on Sunday night. That result has put Ireland on a quarter-final collision course with the Boks – unless there is a major upset or two over the next few weeks.
The Boks have moved from Tokyo to Nagoya ahead of the their next pool game against Namibia. The players and coaches have spoken at length about respecting Namibia and about sharpening their approach on a game-to-game basis.
One cannot help but feel that the buildup to a showdown with Ireland has already begun, though, and that time is running out for the Boks to address their aerial and kicking game shortcomings.
Last week, there were several Irish journalists in attendance at the South African media conferences in Tokyo. At the team Bok team announcement in Nagoya on Wednesday, that unmistakable brogue could be heard from the second row as the Irish reporters asked Erasmus to comment on Ireland’s resounding victory against Scotland.
‘Apart from New Zealand, I think that Ireland were the only team that produced an 80-minute performance on the opening weekend of the World Cup,’ Erasmus said.
‘It was constructive, well-planned, decisive, clinical rugby. It was good tactical rugby, the kind of rugby we saw when New Zealand played us.
‘Everybody blasts the world rankings, but I think that those two teams have been really consistent over the past two years,’ the Bok coach continued.
‘I think that they would be a really tough opponent in the quarter-finals. It’s looking like we will have to play them.
‘That said, they still need to get past Japan. We still need to get past Italy, and these two other energetic opponents.’
Erasmus and assistant coach Jacques Nienaber enjoyed some success with Munster between 2016 and 2017. Former Ireland international Felix Jones linked up with the Boks as a consultant on the eve of the World Cup and has – according to the Bok players and coaches – made a significant contribution in a short space of time.
The Boks aren’t short on information regarding Ireland’s approach and mindset. They should have a fair idea about what to expect if they meet Ireland on 20 October.
One would expect the Boks to win their remaining pool games and to lock down a playoff place. One would also expect them to go into the knockouts with most of their players in a positive space – given Erasmus’ move to give every man in the 31-strong squad game time.
They would do well to keep the bigger picture in mind, though, and to adjust their game plan accordingly. The countdown to an almighty tactical battle with Ireland in the playoffs is already under way.
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