World Cup will be tough to win

Winning the 2015 World Cup would be an extraordinary achievement for the Springboks, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

This is the last column of ifs and buts when it comes to the injury status of several Springboks. This time next week a player will either be fit to go, injured and a concern, or on an aircraft home because of injury.

The World Cup proper can’t come sooner — at least when it comes to all the talk about who in the Springbok 31 is actually injured and who isn’t.

Bok team doctor Craig Roberts said this week that every squad player would be available for selection in this weekend’s opening game against Japan in Brighton.

Then, on the team’s arrival in the UK, he said on Sunday that lock Eben Etzebeth was a concern.

Etzebeth hurt his calf a fortnight ago and the Bok management described the injury as minor. Now it looks a bit more serious, even though all the serious injuries among so many of the Boks are being described as minor in that they are supposedly over the worst.

The Boks play Japan and it’s not a stretch that any of SA’s Currie Cup Premier Division sides (including the Kings) would provide the Boks with a tougher challenge.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer’s only concern will be the possibility of injury to players.

Meyer is expected to give the entire squad a run in the first two matches or at least those he feels are fit enough to play.

My understanding is captain Jean de Villiers and No 8 Duane Vermeulen won’t feature against Japan.

I also doubt Etzebeth will play, but it would be comforting if Willem Alberts (40 minutes of Test rugby in 2015), Pieter-Steph du Toit (no Test rugby in 2015) and Fourie du Preez (no Test rugby in 2015) are named in the match-day squad for the tournament opener.

SA’s group is reasonably comfortable and Samoa — on form — are the only team likely to run the Springboks close.

Scotland have troubled the Boks in northern hemisphere conditions, but there is too much class among the Boks to imagine anything other than a good win when it comes to the Scotland result.

Samoa’s physicality in recent Tests against the Boks has been a factor.

In the past decade they have matured in their style of play, especially among the forwards, because so many of their squad play their domestic rugby in the northern hemisphere.

The Boks won 13-8 when the two met in the pool stages at the 2011 World Cup and those Boks who played, described the Test as the toughest they had ever played against Samoa.

It won’t be any easier at this World Cup. Still, I can’t see the Boks losing to Samoa; just as I can’t see them being troubled by Scotland, Japan or the USA.

It’s the quarter-final against one of Wales, England or Australia that will determine the success of this World Cup campaign.

I say success, because making it to the semi-finals constitutes a successful campaign. Making the final would make for a very good campaign. Winning the tournament would be extraordinary and another of those historic Bok miracle wins.

Every one of the top-tier coaches has agreed this is likely to be the most competitive World Cup in the tournament’s history. Every coach has been quoted as saying there are as many as seven teams who can win the tournament.

New Zealand are the favourites but the defeat against Australia in Sydney was a reminder that they can lose a one-off. It would be a surprise to see New Zealand lose but it wouldn’t be the shock it was in 2007.

The All Blacks have been magnificent in losing just three Tests in a period that extends from the opening match of the 2011 World Cup to the opening match of the 2015 World Cup.

The feat is unrivalled in professional international rugby, and the All Blacks who won the 2011 World Cup are also the All Blacks who historically won every Test in 2013.

The All Blacks in 2014 and 2015 lost once in each year, a reminder to their support base that their team is guaranteed nothing at this World Cup.

The All Blacks, to be the first team to defend the World Cup, will have to play well. Equally so the Boks, if they are to shake off the poor form of 2015 and in a month turn the chump tag into one of champ.

This isn’t a World Cup in which the winner will have fluked anything. To win here, a team is going to have to earn the right to be called World Cup winners.

Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP Photo