Former Springbok flyhalf BRAAM VAN STRAATEN picks his talking points from the first round of action of the World Cup.
Springboks and All Blacks on course for World Cup final meeting
Despite the Springboks going down to the All Blacks in their Pool B opener, I still believe South Africa has what it takes to rewrite history and become the first team to lose a match and still win the World Cup. I believe that after watching all the major nations in action, the final will be played between the All Blacks and Springboks, who between them share five World Cup trophies.
There were such fine margins between the teams, and I do not believe the Boks will be that sloppy in any of their next matches. They will be hurting but not mortally wounded, and while they will face the Irish in the quarter-finals, it is a match they should win.
The draw is such that the All Blacks will be in one half of the draw and the Boks in the other, meaning a meeting between the world’s greatest rivals, in the final of the World Cup, is very much on the cards. There is a lot of action to get through, though, and the tournament is still in its early stages, but I am extremely confident that New Zealand will take up one berth in the cup decider. The Boks are so close to the All Blacks – winning and drawing away in Wellington over the past two seasons – that it makes logical sense to predict them to be the other finalist. What a game that will be!
Referees under the spotlight
I know as a coach there is not much that can be done about the referee decisions after the fact. From a neutral’s perspective the officiating at the World Cup has been questionable at times. Even World Rugby has stepped in and admitted there have been some errors.
I know that refereeing a rugby game is not as cut and dry as soccer as each ref has slightly different interpretations about side entries, counter-rucking and taking out the nine. Much has been said about Jerome Garces after the Boks vs All Blacks game, but I don’t think he was biased in the slightest against the South Africans; he just had a bad game.
Social media has played a huge role in highlighting inconsistencies. Basically, refs live in a fishbowl and everyone gawks and has an opinion after a match. Garces missed the blatantly high and late hit by All Black captain Kieran Read on Pieter-Steph du Toit, but he also could have sent Makazole Mapimpi off for 10 minutes for a marginal high tackle on Richie Mo’unga when he was certain to score.
The point I am making is that refs make mistakes, and with hundreds of millions of people watching, analysing and scrutinising every angle there is bound to be people who make judgements. The French were lucky to get away with a blatant offside in a decisive moment as they defeated Argentina thanks in no small part to a charge-down from an offside position. While that had a bearing on the match, I’m not too sure Read’s takeout of Du Toit would have changed the match in the Boks’ favour. Australia’s Reece Hodge avoided a red card for his tackle on Fiji’s Peceli Yato, and that was also a decisive factor in the Wallabies avoiding a surprise loss. In the latest controversy New Zealand ref Ben O’Keefe is in social-media hot water for appearing to celebrate a Fiji try in the same match.
Sometimes as a ref or coach of an opposing team you can’t help but grin or cheer something spectacular. That is human nature, and not bias. Let’s hope the standard of refereeing does not have a bearing on the outcome of the RWC as it is not fair to lay the blame of defeat on one man, trying his best to see every aspect of a highly charged and super-fast game.
Japan, France set for quarter-final spots?
The race for the quarter-final spots is well and truly on and while seven of the eight spots are certainties, there is the small matter of Argentina to play England, with France the other major-tier nation in Pool C. France managed to scrape past Argentina in a nail-biting encounter and England still has to play those two enigmatic, mercurial teams. The French can beat any team on their day and after England’s relatively poor start, Les Blues will feel they have an even chance of topping the group. England must still play the Pumas and could lose against both the French and Argentinians. That will see Eddie Jones’ men on the first flight home.
The other major battle for quarter-final seedings will be in Pool D when Wales and Australia, both off opening-round wins, will do battle in a group decider. The winner of this game will go on to play the second-placed team in Pool C, which will probably be France.
But if the French can upset the English, then the Roses will do battle with either Wales or the Wallabies.
The Dragons go into the clash with the Wallabies as favourites, but the two-time World Champions can never be underestimated.
Another interesting clash will take place in Pool A, when Scotland, fresh off a hammering against Ireland, will have to play hosts Japan. We all know what Japan did to the Boks in 2015. If everything goes their way, and Scotland has a stinker then the World Cup will have another upset, a recurring theme from every World Cup since 1987.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images