SA Rugby magazine identifies some of the good, the bad and the ugly to take away from the Boks’ World Cup victory over Italy.
Despite the uncompromisingly physical defensive effort by the Boks in keeping the Italians tryless, Cheslin Kolbe’s Man of the Match performance was undoubtedly the highlight from Friday’s Pool B clash at the Shizuoka Stadium. The pocket rocket – on the winning side this time around – put in yet another stellar performance in the Bok jersey, after his impressive display against the All Blacks a fortnight ago. The Bok No 14, who was lauded by coach Rassie Erasmus for a wonderful all-round game, terrorized the Azzurri on attack and was equally effective on defence. Kolbe’s ability to retrieve high balls gave the Boks valuable possession, which was demonstrated perfectly in the lead-up to his second try after he won the contest in the air with Sergio Parisse. Kolbe’s form thus far has been nothing short of sublime, with the Bok right wing proving to be his team’s most potent attacking weapon. Having been described as the ‘heartbeat’ of the Springboks by Nick Mallett post-game, Bok fans were grateful to hear from Erasmus and Kolbe himself that the ankle injury he sustained prior to the final whistle was nothing to be too concerned about. The Bok flyer’s attacking exploits will be essential to the cause if the Boks are to go all the way in Japan.
While their tactical kicking showed signs of improvement from previous weeks, the inability to finish off point-scoring opportunities when they are presented, still proves to be a crippling factor for the Boks’ attacking game plan. This ineptitude did not come back to haunt them, however, because of their man advantage for most of the second half, but could be capitalised on by teams they may face following the conclusion of the pool stages. Willie le Roux’s droppped ball with an overlap out wide, his attempted chip kick which skewed directly into touch, Pieter-Steph du Toit’s revoked try after Siya Kolisi was blown up for obstruction, as well as Cheslin Kolbe’s lack of support after intercepting an Italian pass, were all incidents where the Boks should have come away with points. The decision to boot the ball upfield instead of taking on the Italian defence with ball in hand – when playing under a penalty advantage – was particularly disappointing. The anxiety in attack and conservative approach was clearly evident and this will need to change heading into the knockout rounds when tries, and not solely points from the boot, will become crucial.
Duane Vermuelen being dumped on his head by Italian props Andrea Lovotti and Nicola Quaglio –with the former receiving a red card for the reckless tip-tackle – certainly changed the complexion of the game. With the World Cup already having thrown up many controversial decisions by match officials, referee Wayne Barnes had no other option but to show the front ranker his marching orders for the dangerous tackle on Vermeulen. It should be said though that both props looked equally at fault for what might have been a tournament-ending injury for Vermeulen. Barnes opted not to sanction Quaglio after consulting with his TMO, in a decision that would have rendered the game even less of a contest. That moment of madness has in all likelihood ended coach Conor O’Shea’s side’s chance of making a quarter-final for the first time in their history. The sight of the Bok eighthman returning to play soon after the incident would have been a huge relief for the management team and fans alike, as Vermeulen is another integral part of the team’s goal of lifting that gold cup come 2 November.