What we’ve learned

Five lessons from the World Cup quarter-finals, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.

The Springboks must secure possession from restarts and improve their exit play
At Twickenham on Saturday, the Boks were guilty of scoring points only to let Wales gain possession from the restart. In the 13th minute, with Handré Pollard having just put the Boks ahead 6-0, Lood de Jager claimed the kick-off on the right-hand side of the field, only for the Boks to concede a turnover in their 22. Then in the 18th minute, with Pollard having put the Boks ahead 9-3, Bryan Habana secured the restart, but Fourie du Preez failed to find touch, with Dan Biggar's up-and-under leading to a try for Gareth Davies. The Boks got it right in the 21st minute, following Pollard's fourth penalty, when Duane Vermeulen took the restart and Willie le Roux found touch on the halfway line, but Schalk Burger then made a mistake just before half-time when Biggar's penalty came off the upright. Instead of passing to one of two backline players next to him, who could have found touch, the flanker took the ball into contact, the Boks knocked on, and Biggar slotted a drop goal from the resultant scrum. The Boks also didn't start the second half well, with Wales' restart bouncing in between De Jager, Vermeulen and Habana. Fortunately for South Africa, it didn't cost them any points. If the Boks are to cause an upset and beat the All Blacks in Saturday's semi-final, they will need to work hard on securing possession at restarts and getting out of their half as effectively as possible.

One piece of sublime skill can win you a World Cup play-off
Fourie du Preez gave credit for his match-winning try to Duane Vermeulen's 'unbelievable pass'. With five minutes remaining and the Boks trailing 19-18, the No 8 broke away from a scrum that his side had wheeled in-field, to draw two defenders and then pass out the back door to his captain. The humble Du Preez deserves praise too, as he initially moved towards the openside when Vermeulen picked up the ball, causing confusion in the Welsh defence, before darting away to the blindside where Vermeulen had gone. Wales, who had defended heroically until then, will regret the fact that Alex Cuthbert came in off his wing and flanker Sam Warburton took too long to break off the scrum.

One mistake can cost you a World Cup play-off
Scotland were leading the Wallabies 34-32 at Twickenham with just two minutes to go, when they were awarded a lineout just outside the opposition 22. With the rain pelting down, the sensible thing to do would have been to throw the ball to the front of the lineout, secure possession and get back into Wallabies territory. Instead, the throw went to the back, David Denton was unable to take it, with the loose ball appearing to come off a Scotland player into a teammate standing in front of him in an offside position. Referee Craig Joubert awarded the penalty (protocol meant he was unable to check it with the TMO), which Bernard Foley sent through the uprights. While Scotland were rightly aggrieved by the decision (World Rugby later confirmed that Joubert should have awarded the Wallabies a scrum instead), they should not have put themselves into that position in the first place.

The All Blacks can lift their intensity when required
Just before their quarter-final against France in Cardiff, All Blacks selector Grant Fox said the team had had their best week of training at the World Cup so far and that the 'fear of losing' was back, which was a good thing. Apart from a tough opening game against Argentina, New Zealand were rarely tested during the pool stage and produced relatively flat performances against Georgia, Namibia and Tonga even if they were able to rack up the points. But by scoring nine tries to humiliate France 62-13, Richie McCaw's men showed that they can lift their game substantially against tougher opposition in a pressurised World Cup play-off and that they, and not the Wallabies, remain the team to beat at this World Cup.

Los Pumas' backs pose a big attacking threat
At the 2007 World Cup, Argentina scored 17 tries in five matches on their way to a first-ever semi-final appearance. They achieved great success with a conservative game plan that saw flyhalf Juan Martín Hernández put boot to ball more often than not, with his up-and-unders into opposition territory proving to be particularly effective. At the 2015 World Cup, Argentina have reached the same stage of the tournament by scoring 22 tries in five matches, including four in Sunday's 43-20 quarter-final win against Ireland. All four were scored by backline players, with winger Juan Imhoff grabbing a double, which shows how the Pumas' game has developed recently. In the past, Argentina over-relied on their powerful pack. Now they have good forwards and a backline that poses a big threat with ball in hand. Graham Henry has been credited with sparking the Pumas' attacking revolution. The World Cup-winning All Blacks coach, in his capacity as a consultant, told Argentina that they needed to create more tries and that it was impossible to win matches if they just defended for 80 minutes. That saw a change in mindset that has made the Pumas one of the most entertaining teams to watch at this World Cup and worthy semi-finalists.

Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP Photo

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Simon Borchardt