The Springboks intend to outbully the confrontational Samoans in Friday’s Test at North Harbour Stadium.
After a disappointing campaign in the Pacific Nations Cup, Samoa stunned the rugby world when they beat the Wallabies 32-23 in Sydney. Many believed the historic win signalled the beginning of something special, and the massive Samoan contingent in the greater Auckland area moved to buy tickets to the Samoa vs South Africa World Cup pool clash on 30 September.
The North Harbour Stadium will be at full capacity this coming Friday. There is a big South Africa-fan base in that part of New Zealand, but it won’t compare to the number of spectators clad in the blue of Samoa.
Both sets of fans will be expecting a physical romp, and there’s good reason to believe that this Samoa side will be tougher to top than sides of previous years. While they’re as physical as their predecessors, they play with more structure and purpose.
The Boks have taken note of Samoa’s performances at the 2011 tournament. They weren’t quite good enough to beat Wales, although they were competitive for large parts of that match. They steamrolled Namibia and hammered Fiji. They’re unlikely to dominate the Boks upfront, but there’s no doubt that they will try to win the battle at the collisions.
It will be a bruising contest, and there may be casualties if neither side is willing to move away from an attritional approach. Samoa have already spoken about moving the ball around, but the Boks intend to take the islanders on at the coalface no matter the cost.
It’s a strategy that should bring them the desired rewards, but they will be hoping that it doesn’t lead to further injuries to key players a week out from a quarter-final against Australia.
Bok centre Jaque Fourie said that playing two intensely physical matches back-to-back shouldn’t be a problem for this South Africa team. Following last week’s win against Namibia, the Boks enjoyed a couple of days rest, and Fourie believes this has made all the difference. The Boks have used this time to recharge and prepare themselves for an all out war at the point of contact.
‘It’s going to be physical, I’m sure we’re going to be feeling the bruises afterwards,’ said Fourie. That’s why it was important that we had the break. Your body needs to be fresh, but your mind needs to be fresh as well.’
Several players have stood out for Samoa in this tournament. Scrumhalf Kahn Foutali’i, who also plays for the Crusaders in the Super 15, has been one of the more direct No 9s while the 120kg winger Alesana Tuilagi will be an attacking threat if he’s brought into the line. Centre Seilala Mapusua is another who will look to impose himself in the tackle.
Fourie played down the threat of these individuals. While he acknowledged their talents, he believes the collective is more dangerous than before because Samoa are now using their natural talent and inclination for contact to pursue a common goal.
‘They’re a very physical team, and as is the case with the Fijians, if you allow it to get loose, they will punish you. If your kicking game and first-phase is not up to standard, they will punish you.
‘All round they’ve got a good team, so we’re not going to focus on one or two players. They stay in their structures, so we have to look at how we are going to beat the team rather than the individuals. They’re dangerous in broken play, but they seem to be even more dangerous now that they’re structured.
‘I think they’ve modelled their game on how the All Blacks play.’
The Boks have the pack to boss the islanders proving they don’t go into the game with a complacent attitude. They will also need to take the fight to the islanders in midfield, and this is where men like Frans Steyn, Fourie and even Jean de Villiers will need to prove their worth.
‘They’re very direct and physical, there’s no funny business,’ said Fourie. ‘You know what to expect, they just come straight and hard, and there defence is good as well.
‘We need to be clinical in what we want to do; we need to be as direct and physical as we can be.’
In the build up to the Fiji and Namibia matches, the Boks promised to play direct, pragmatic rugby. What transpired against Fiji was a looser albeit profitable approach against a weak defence. The Boks were also too adventurous during the early stages against Namibia, and the loss of structure led to frustration and unnecessary errors.
As Fourie suggests, the clash against Samoa will require a lift in accuracy and intensity. The Boks should beat Samoa, but their success will be determined by their ability to maintain a high standard over the course of 80 minutes. A consistently physical effort will ensure they beat the Samoans by a comfortable margin and take some much needed momentum into the play-offs.
By Jon Cardinelli, in Taupo