Boks shift into knockout mode

Dick Muir says the Springboks will play finals rugby against Samoa and that Morne Steyn has a campaign-defining role to play in South Africa’s remaining matches.

There have been a number of rumours doing the rounds in the Bok camp over the last week. There was first talk that the Boks would ‘throw’ their final pool match to avoid facing Australia in the quarter-finals, talk that was refuted by technical adviser Rassie Erasmus.

Then there was a more subtle suggestion that the Boks would move away from their pragmatic game plan and favour a more expansive approach. The latter strategy would be implemented to ensure the Boks went into the play-offs without serious injuries incurred through an all-out-war of attrition at the gain line.

The Bok management has once again rubbished the rumours, and the make up of the match 22 certainly lends substance to their claims. On Wednesday, Muir pointed out that only the All Blacks are guaranteed a place in the next round. He confirmed that the Boks want to win Pool D and will be doing everything in their power to beat Samoa on Friday.

‘It’s a must win for us. We are looking at it as a knockout game,’ said Muir.

‘We came into this tournament underdone and what’s been great about this pool is that it’s been as physical as we anticipated. We’ve been able to rotate the squad and use a horses for courses policy, and I’m happy with what we’ve achieved.

‘Obviously there are a few things, such as the tactical kicking, that we need to work on, but otherwise the physicality of these three clashes has been good for us.’

The Boks will aim to impose themselves at the set-pieces, collisions and breakdowns, and their backs will also look to contain the more explosive members of the Samoa backline. Spectators can expect a series of high-hanging kicks from the Bok 9 and 10 in this match and indeed in every other match between now and the end of their campaign.

Muir intimated that if the game plan is executed correctly, the South Africans will accumulate points. While the Boks have a number of attacking players at their disposal, they employ a pattern that relies on their best goal-kicker, Morne Steyn, to score points. Muir said the management’s preferred No 10 will be pivotal to the Boks’ success on Friday and in next week’s probable quarter-final against Australia.

‘We took a view a while back that kicking accuracy was going to be important in this tournament. We saw how Morne performed against Namibia last week, it was an exceptional effort and that’s the standard we expect from him. Goal-kicking is going to be key going into the tight games.’

In July, Butch James was the selectors’ favourite to wear the No 10 jersey at the World Cup, but after he missed a relatively easy penalty against the Wallabies in Durban, Steyn was reinstated. The Bulls’ sharpshooter took his opportunity in the subsequent Test against the All Blacks, kicking all 18 of the Boks’ points in a approach many hailed as a World Cup finals template.

Muir extolled the virtues of Steyn in the context of this game plan. He did mention James as a fallback option, but for now Steyn is the man in whom the coaches and selectors will place their faith.

‘Butch has a World Cup winners medal around his neck. He has a huge amount of experience and is not the type of guy to get flustered in pressure situations, so we know we can call on him. He’s been very competitive on the training field, and we believe he is ready.’

Jean de Villiers is another who was expected to start the big matches at this World Cup, but when he sustained an injury in the first pool match against Wales he unintentionally gave Frans Steyn a chance to make the position his own.

‘Frans has shown that he’s not just a kicker,’ said Muir, who gave Steyn his big break at the Sharks in 2006. ‘He’s a very special player with a lot of vision, he likes to play what’s in front of him and if you can blend that into your structures you will have a dangerous player. He’s got that extra X factor with the boot too, being able to kick it over from anywhere.

‘He’s been given a gap and he’s taken it. It doesn’t mean that he’s the preferred No 12 for the rest of the tournament, but Jean is going to have to fight for his position. Jean will have an opportunity off the bench this week. He’s also a player who we believe has a lot of the X-factor.’

By Jon Cardinelli, in Taupo