Springbok assistant coach Gary Gold says Samoa have made significant strides in key areas of their game and predicts it could be their biggest test thus far.
The Springboks enter Friday’s contest tipped to win but are acutely aware of the islanders’ capacity to upset them should they be allowed to establish momentum. Samoa’s must-win cause will be assisted by strong support at the North Habour Stadium in Auckland.
The Samoans eased passed Namibia before being narrowly defeated by Wales. On Sunday they stumbled past Fiji, but throughout the tournament they have produced passages of play that defied the widely held perception that they are little more than rudderless runners. Gold noted this and also identified other trends not usually associated with the islanders.
‘There is certainly a lot more structure about their game. Their primary threat is still the skill and explosiveness, particularly in their backline players, but in previous tournaments they probably didn’t always set a platform to effectively play the way they want to. That has changed now’ Gold said.
‘The core of their side is also very experienced. Many of them play in Europe’s top leagues, but more than that they’re key players in those teams. The added benefit of playing in Europe is that they are very well conditioned, which has been a general criticism of them in the past. The fact that the majority of them finished their club seasons well before the World Cup started allowed the Samoan management to improve them even further in this regard. This could be as tough a challenge as Wales posed, perhaps even bigger.’
Gold added that they were under no illusions that Fiji and Namibia, whom they beat comfortably in the last fortnight, don’t have Samoa’s defensive prowess. The Springboks’ coaching staff have been vocal in their displeasure with periods of loose play in those matches, and will demand that their charges erode Samoa’s defensive line with more direct and patient phase play before seeking to attack in he wide channels.
‘If we fail to treasure possession and earn the right to play wide, we will be in trouble,’ he said. ‘When we’ve done that we’ve controlled the game as opposed to reacting to what the opposition are doing. Our tries against Wales are an example of this. That is the objective, to impose our will on them.’
He continued, explaining that defence has been the most pleasing aspect of their game thus far. The Springboks have conceded just one try in three Tests, an impressive return, even though perspective needs to maintained in light of Fiji and Namibia’s mediocrity. Gold identified their gainline and breakdown contest as being central to that success and called for an advancement here.
‘The Samoans have some great strike runners who’ve got them momentum in the tackle. Teams have found it so difficult to stop them recycling quickly. Wales did it best, and therein lies lessons for us,’ he said. ‘The boys are feeling really comfortable in the system and everybody understands their roles. We have to build on what we’ve achieved defensively or risk being cut open.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Auckland.
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