SA Rugby magazine identifies some of the good, the bad and the ugly to take away from the Boks’ semi-final victory over Wales.
While it was most certainly not the exciting spectacle as seen the day before in the first semi-final, the Boks’ win over Wales came down to utter determination and a willingness to grind out a win. The Boks should be commended for the resolve they showed during Sunday’s tense victory. Having gone back to their historical strengths of forward dominance and a tactical kicking gameplan, Rassie Erasmus’ men have made massive strides to find themselves in the position they are currently in – having reached a World Cup final. Grinding out results through pure grit, tenacious defence and sticking to what they know best have made the current crop of players World Cup finalists. Not many Bok fans would have envisaged this scenario just a couple of seasons ago. The defensive effort throughout the campaign has certainly been a valuable asset for the Boks, alongside their set-piece dominance. The fervent effort exhibited by the players to hold Wales out for an extended period of phases during the second half, has to be applauded. The fact that several key players stepped up when they were required to, will only add to the team’s confidence heading into this weekend’s decider. The composure displayed by Handre Pollard to slot his match-winning penalty kick, under intense pressure, was another instance of the Boks winning the big moments during the encounter at Yokohama Stadium. The impact of the bench should also be lauded, with the ‘bomb squad’ again providing some much-needed impetus during the second half. Should the Boks stick to their structures and that which has given them success thus far, they will have every chance of lifting that gold trophy come Saturday. Reaching the final is a monumental achievement in itself and something the players and Bok fans can be immensely proud of.
With discipline, and consequently the penalty count, set to be an important factor during the final, the Boks will surely need to emphasise that facet of play in preparation for the battle with Eddie Jones’ side. Statistics show that the Boks conceded nine penalties against Wales, something that they can ill-afford to repeat against England. Unforced errors and lack of discipline kept Wales in the game for most of the contest. Fortunately for the Boks, some of the penalties they conceded were not in kicking range for the Welsh. That might not be the case come Saturday, though, with the likes of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly able to punish the Boks from well outside their half of the field. While the current gameplan to incessantly kick for territory may be infuriating for some Bok fans, fact is that the tactic has not brought much misfortune thus far. Even Wales coach Warren Gatland, who predicted a tactical kicking fest in the buildup to the match, complimented the Boks on their effective kicking game after the final whistle. The individual errors made when attempting to field high balls, as well as the unnecessary infringements at the breakdown, will undoubtedly be frustrating. Such mistakes could cost the team points in the final and prove to be the difference between winning and losing.
The stop-start nature of the often tedious contest – thanks to a plethora of kicks from hand – did not provide for entertaining viewing for fans at the stadium and those watching at home. This, though, is a usual feature of knockout Test rugby, where winning by any means becomes the adopted plan of action. Both sides were guilty of being sloppy in their execution, with obvious anxiety adding to a cautious opening first quarter. The game lacked any real rhythm and fluency throughout the 80 minutes but, fortunately, this was not due to officiating interpretations. The Boks achieved the victory, despite it being ugly to watch. But a win, however it may come, is still a win. While fans might long for an expansive gameplan, where the Bok wings score wonderful tries, this is simply not an approach that Erasmus and his team will take when they run out against England. If their previous matches at the World Cup are anything to go by, the Boks are set to grind it out again during the final, where they will need to minimise their flaws and suppress their nerves to come out on top.
Photo: EPA/Franck Robichon/BackpagePix