The Devils Advocate- Part 1

October 10, 2015

So everything is fine on board the SAS Springbok, is it?

Well, let’s give them their due. They’ve summonsed their powers of recovery following their shock defeat to Japan and had a ruthless streak about them against Samoa (46-6), Scotland (34-16) and the USA (64-0).

The clean sheet against the USA was particularly meaningful. The Yanks are hardly giants of world rugby, but what one would like to see against such an opponent is precisely the kind of ruthless performance the Springboks delivered.

I still have my doubts about the Springboks and don’t see them going into the final. In fact, if they meet Australia in the quarter-final, they won’t progress beyond that.

However, I expect Wales to be confirmed as the Boks’ quarter-final opponents this weekend. Given all the injuries the Welsh have had to cope with, I don’t expect them to repeat last November’s heroics of beating South Africa.

While the Springboks have some exciting runners, I expect them to revert to type against stronger opponents. Their Achilles heel is the lack of imagination in their game. They have a powerful pack and a superb scrumhalf in Fourie du Preez, but have technical deficiencies at the breakdown and in their kicking game.

My prediction: A defeat to New Zealand in the semi-final and a bronze medal.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at a few of the stories that have popped up in the UK press.

Earlier this week Eddie Jones supposedly made himself available to coach England and now it is claimed Frans Malherbe is embroiled in a ‘biting’ scandal – based on a photograph that looks nothing else than misleading.

Anyone who knows Frans will laugh at the sum made by England’s Daily Mail.

It was great to see Bryan Habana equal Jonah Lomu’s record of 15 World Cup tries.

Habana has been the proverbial model professional over more than a decade now for the Springboks. As is the case with the likes of Schalk Burger and Fourie du Preez, one can’t help but wonder whether there is still a little mileage left to go beyond the World Cup.

Would they be useful in ushering in a new era before riding off into the sunset or get in the way of eager, younger players?

Speaking of younger players, it will be interesting to see whether Bok coach Heyneke Meyer retains Lood de Jager as his No 5 lock when Victor Matfield re-gains his fitness. Matfield, of course, has mostly captained South Africa when Jean de Villiers has been injured, but with both of them out the armband proved a natural fit on Fourie du Preez.

The big question: Is Meyer prepared to challenge his own thinking?

He came this far with Matfield, but through accident rather than design may have stumbled onto something better. It’s certainly going to be fascinating to see how the Bok coach deals with the intense pressure and whether he’s going to be prepared to make big calls.

The World Cup rewards experience, but there is a fine line between that and a player that is no longer operating nowhere near the peak of his powers.

Matfield hasn’t been poor, but De Jager simply better.

guest column by The Devils Advocate

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