The Springbok back row has too much class to be overshadowed by their English counterparts this Saturday.
An English win is based on an assumption that they will dominate the tackle point, slow South African ball and afford Jonny Wilkinson the opportunity to drop goals with mechanical efficiency. But when you line up Messrs Corry, Moody and Easter, they hardly compare to the unit of Burger, Smith and Rossouw. An assumption of English dominance on the ground hardly seems to stem from a little planet called reality.
Western Province coach Gary Gold has previously worked in the English Premiership with London Irish and is familiar with many of the England players. On current form, he feels the Boks are just too strong in this department.
“Our breakdown skills will need to be sharp, but I think the Bok back row will be too good for their English counterparts,” he told keo.co.za. “England don’t possess a quality loose trio like the Dallaglio, Back and Hill combo of 2003, but I think the Boks do.
“Danie and Juan have boasted very impressive work rates while Schalk is running beautifully with ball in hand. There you can see the difference Eddie Jones has made as Schalk now has the ability to create a lot more by offloading to a supporting player. If there’s a half-gap he is capable of running over a defender and then putting a team-mate away. I really don’t think England will have the pace to deal with the Bok back row.”
Gold does not expect a spectacle on Saturday. The Boks will take the fight to the opposition forwards, but they should also look to grind away at the English backline.
“They need to target Jonny with the loose forwards by getting Danie Rossouw and Juan Smith to run at him. He is an exceptional defender but has had shoulder problems. You want to put Jonny on the floor and in turn get guys like Lewis Moody involved by keeping them on the deck. If we can keep these two players on the floor we should be in for a very good game.”
However, Gold believes the vulnerability in the English defence lies a channel or two outside of Wilkinson.
“If I was in Jake’s shoes, I would be attacking the 12-13 channel. England will worry about Butch [James] and the way [Frans] Steyn has been using his feet. Catt is not as young as he used to be and Tait is not the strongest on defence. They are definitely vulnerable between Catt and Tait and South Africa would do well to set their go-forward from this position.”
Commenting on the style of rugby that wins World Cups, Gold is not surprised New Zealand and Australia are no longer at the tournament.
“If you look at every team who’s attempted to ‘play rugby’ at the World Cup, they have come a cropper. Defences are so good these days and you pay a much higher price for turnovers. The turnover sees the opposition at their moment of greatest weakness when they have had no time to organise their line.
“Look at the opening game between France and Argentina. France played all the rugby and Argentina defended like demons and waited for the mistakes.”
The previous fixture between the Boks and England ended in a 36-0 victory to South Africa, but that result has little bearing on the outcome of the final. Wilkinson also missed the pool match and there is little doubt he could have done something to curb the humiliation.
“England were shocking at the beginning of the tournament because they didn’t have Jonny Wilkinson,” said Gold. “He gives them direction. He passes and kicks beautifully and can take it up strongly. On defence, you have to be brave to run into his channel. This may suggest he is the perfect flyhalf, but what makes him special is his organisation and communication on the field.
“Mike Catt is very similar. He’s not 22 anymore but his organisational skills are very good. He also provides another kicking option.”
South Africa possess the quality to down the English but Gold warned that confidence can lift teams to perform beyond themselves. The Poms are on a high and have earned their right to play in a final after beating Australia and France in the play-offs.
“England are a completely different side to the team of the pool stages. They will have forgotten about that game and South Africa should too. The 53-3 defeat [in 2002] will be the last thing on the Boks’ minds, but the same applies for the 36-0 victory.
“England are brimming with confidence after a few big wins and will not worry about the past year where South Africa have dominated these encounters. It was not too long ago where the situation was reversed.”
By Jon Cardinelli