Fuss over the play-offs

Keo, in his Independent Newspapers column, writes only the play-offs can indicate who is the form team at this World Cup.

Springbok captain John Smit rightly defended his second-stringers and resisted offering a headline that would damn the youngsters after they sneaked a 30-25 win against Tonga.

Smit asked for perspective and said the side that had played Tonga, just like the combination that had played Connacht, had rarely played together. It had to be factored into the quality of performance.

What also has to be factored in my words and not those of Smit is that most of the starting XV against Tonga will not start again at this World Cup.

And that’s why I fail to understand some of the hysterical reaction to the Boks’ stuttering win against Tonga.

Had the side that won so handsomely against Samoa and England hit a wall against Tonga then the post-mortem would be justified. Then questions of peaking too soon would have been pertinent. Accusations of complacency would also not have been misplaced.

But there is absolutely no comparison to be made with the Samoa and England matches because the make-up of the two sides is so different.

The Bok machine is still very much in overdrive until the A team gives us a reason to think otherwise. The A team played Namibia and Scotland pre the World Cup and demolished Samoa and England in the first fortnight of the World Cup. In all four matches there was a World Cup quality to the performances.

There was also a World Cup quality to how the Boks dismissed the English in South Africa prior to the Tri-Nations, only to show vulnerability in the Tri-Nations against Australia and New Zealand.

What this tells us is we won’t know if the Boks are capable of winning the World Cup until they play one of Australia or New Zealand the likely opposition in a final should the Boks make it that far.

The first four weeks of the World Cup have told us nothing, other than that the northern hemisphere is awful and the Tri-Nations’ is tougher to win than the World Cup.

South Africa, to win the Tri-Nations, has to beat Australia and New Zealand. But to win this World Cup it will mean getting it right on one night against just one of them.

This World Cup is easier for the Boks than this season’s Tri-Nations, but it also complicates the merits of the Boks’ World Cup campaign.

Just like it would be fruitless to condemn the limp performance in Lens against Tonga, there will rightly be question marks about the substance of those wins against Samoa and England, based on the inferiority of the opposition.

Can the Bok scrum dominate against New Zealand? Will the lineout prosper against Australia? How good will our backs look against either of them when in June during the Tri-Nations they offered nothing?

It all comes down to one match for the Boks. If they don’t fall victim to complacency they should be in the final, but it is only then that we will be able to put a value to the six weeks that preceded it.

We are into the fourth week of a tournament that has been as farcical as it has been fantastic. The support in France has been tremendous, but the standard of rugby has been dire.

This tournament will only come to life in the final two weekends when strength plays strength and South Africa waits to see which of Australia or New Zealand it has to beat to win the World Cup.