Boks’ success hinges on Pool D opener
29 Aug 2011
JON CARDINELLI writes the Springboks have to beat Wales to avoid a dangerous quarter-final showdown with the Wallabies.
There’s good reason to doubt that the Springboks will replicate the performances and results of 2007, but there should be no doubts about their involvement in the play-offs. While it cannot be said with absolute certainty that they will cruise through Pool D unbeaten, it can be confidently asserted that they will negotiate world minnows like Fiji, Namibia and Samoa.
Having said that, the Boks still need to beat Wales to give themselves the best chance of winning the World Cup. Defeat in the Pool D opener would lead to a low-road scenario where they finish the group in second place and play the winner of Pool C.
The Wallabies are the favourites to top Pool C, and would be the favourites in a potential quarter-final against the Boks given that they’ve beaten Peter de Villiers’s charges in seven of the 11 Tests played over the past four years.
James Horwill and company will be waiting for the Boks in the quarter-finals should they stumble against Wales. What will give the Boks confidence ahead of their Pool D opener is their flawless record against the Dragons. Under De Villiers, they’ve beaten Wales five times in five games.
The first game of De Villiers’s tenure was played in Bloemfontein against Warren Gatland’s men, and the Boks recorded a comfortable 43-17 victory. They were made to fight for the result the very next week in Pretoria, as Wales were in the match for the first half before the Boks dominated in the second. The final scoreline of 37-21 didn’t tell the full story, as Wales were only two points behind at half-time.
The three subsequent games in Cardiff have all been tight encounters, and at the end of each Test Gatland has lamented Wales’ inconsistency. It took a long range Jean de Villiers intercept try to secure the result in November 2008 (the visitors hung on for a valuable 20-15 victory). The match that should never have been in June 2010 also went to the wire, and the Boks were again lucky to emerge on the right side of the 34-31 scoreline.
The Boks played another Test at the Millennium Stadium in November 2010. Wales dominated the first half and deservedly led 17-9 at the break, and it took an inspired effort to overturn that lead in the second stanza and get the Boks home. The final score read 29-25 as the Welsh were denied yet another famous victory.
There’s much to be learned from the Boks’ recent performances against Wales. Apart from the 2008 Test in Bloemfontein, the Boks have been as inconsistent as their Welsh counterparts. They’ve never been in control from start to finish, and this is why Gatland will feel that Wales will have a sniff when the teams meet again on 11 September in Wellington.
The performances of the Boks in 2011 have been particularly erratic. The first-choice players have played only two Tests together in the build up to the World Cup, and on both occasions they’ve displayed a tendency to lose concentration and intensity at crucial stages of the game.
They began impressively in Durban but were overwhelmed by a determined and aggressive Wallabies side in the second half. The result in Port Elizabeth will be remembered as the Boks’ only win of the 2011 Tri-Nations, but again the performance was marred by missed tackles and attacking impotency.
The Boks will qualify for the play-offs at the 2011 World Cup, but there are no guarantees that they will beat Wales in their opening game. Wales will have learned from their previous defeats, and hopefully the Boks will have learned as much from those five victories.
One of these teams is going to be punished for their failure to maintain a high standard over the course of 80 minutes. If the Boks go into that clash with anything less than a do-or-die attitude and a renewed appreciation for accuracy, they could be in for a shock.