Rassie Erasmus says the Springboks would never throw a game just to earn an easier road to the World Cup final.
Since Ireland’s upset win over Australia, there’s been a buzz over the potential play-off permutations and even a few suggestions that teams will deliberately lose pool games in order to progress to a semi-final and ultimately a final.
After their big win at Eden Park, Ireland are now expected to top Pool C and play Wales (the probable runners-up of Pool D) in the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, the Boks should win Pool D and play Australia in the other Wellington play-off.
The Boks would have expected to build some momentum during the pool stages of this tournament and then sharpen their game against Ireland in the quarter-finals. Before this World Cup began, the potential semi-final against New Zealand was viewed as their first true test, but with Ireland beating Australia, they will be forced to meet the Wallabies earlier than anticipated.
There is a chance they can still play Ireland in the quarter-finals. Ireland would have to lose Italy, or the Boks would have to lose their last pool match to Samoa. If the Boks dropped the latter game, they would in all probability play teams ranked lower in the world (Ireland, and one of England or France) before meeting an Australasian side in the grand final.
Erasmus said on Friday that the team would not even entertain the suggestion of throwing next Friday’s match in order to avoid the Wallabies in the quarter-final. The Bok technical adviser was adamant that the move would have repercussions and possibly compromise the Boks’ momentum.
‘You would have to walk in front of the team and say, “Boys, we have to throw this game.” How do you do that? I’ve never been part of a team where we said we were going to do something like that. For some coaches the idea might cross their mind, but then you have to tell that to the team and the moment you tell that to the team you’ve lost the tournament,’ he said.
Erasmus believes that Ireland played the bad conditions better than the Wallabies, and it is because of their ability to prevail in the driving wind and rain that the Emerald Greens will be a threat in the knockout games. Following that statement, he admitted that it would be a special achievement to beat the Australasians en route to another world title.
‘The guys were fantastic in 2007 but they won without playing Australia or New Zealand, so if we want to go one better than that team, I can’t think of a better way. Obviously it’s a very very tough road.’
He said that the Boks would have to adapt to the conditions on the day, and that the weather would prescribe the Boks’ chosen approach.
‘You will have to have two game plans up your sleeve. When I talk about one or two game plans, it’s basically taking it a bit wider in the dry weather and then in the wet weather you will rely more on your kicking game. That’s basically the difference between the two game plans.’
The Boks struggled against Wales in their opening match of this tournament, but still managed to emerge on the right side on the 17-16 scoreline. They subsequently hammered Fiji and massacred Namibia, but Erasmus has called for perspective following those two big victories.
‘When you play smaller teams like Namibia people tend to go over the top with the result and say we played an expansive game. They were a gutsy team, but they were a weaker team. They don’t have great defensive structures, they tire because they’re not a full professional side, so we won’t get carried away with that performance.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Auckland