Many people regard the 2015 RWC as the finest tournament ever, a sentiment I fully endorse. Thus far, 257 tries were scored, versus 201 penalties, which explain the positive sentiment.
A total of 2 181 640 spectators packed into the grounds so far. There is no doubt that the average attendance will increase substantially over the next two weekends, despite the fact that it is an all Southern Hemisphere contest.
While statistics can be misleading, it is interesting to note that, of the four teams in the semi-finals, only South Africa are represented in the data on tackles made. Lood de Jager (60), Schalk Burger (55) and Francois Louw (46) are the only players left on the list who can improve their count.
This could possibly be a pointer to how the Springboks will approach the match – solid defence to prevent the All Blacks from building momentum and getting the ball wide to their two devastating wings, just like we did in 1995 when Jonah Lomu was the biggest threat world rugby had ever seen. I remember the joke about the coach saying to the team before the match: “Remember guys, this is a 15 man game – you 14 make sure that you pass the ball to Lomu.”
The only change to the Springbok side, the inclusion of Victor Matfield on the bench in place of Pieter-Steph du Toit, strengthens the Boks as far as experience goes. This is a critical aspect, given that the match will, hopefully, be decided in the last fifteen minutes. The replacements against Wales added substantially to the impact when Wales started tiring, and will hopefully do so again on Saturday.
My only real concern is Willie le Roux. There can be little doubt that Carter will test him under the high ball right from the start. In the beginning of his career, this was also a weakness, but he managed to overcome this. Hopefully, this aspect received a lot of attention during preparation this week. With Habana and Pietersen having to watch their dangerous opponents, it will probably be left to Fourie du Preez to assist Willie at the back.
What this game will boil down to is the contest between the guile of the All Blacks and the resoluteness of the Springboks. If we manage to shut them down for eighty minutes, we can win. The All Blacks have, on a number of occasions this year, proved that they can rise to the occasion when their backs were to the wall.
Two other factors that can play a role in the outcome are the weather and the referee and his assistants.
Rain is predicted for Saturday, which could favour the Springboks’ approach of keeping it tight. The All Blacks, of course, will feel quite at home in adverse conditions.
While I am neutral about Jerome Garcés playing the lead whistle, the presence of Romaine Twoite as assistant referee fills me with misgivings.
To sum up: we need eighty two minutes of concentration on Saturday if we are going to achieve the seemingly impossible. Seventy eight will not do it.
My colleague, Billy Seyffert, pointed out on Monday that the Wallabies, for the second RWC in a row, had to rely on the referee to make the semi-finals. Click here to read Jonathan Kaplan’s view on Craig Joubert’s decision.
In their last encounter, Australia ran out winners by 34 points to 9 in Mendoza. The quiet confidence of the South American side during RWC this year suggests that it will not be such a one-sided affair again.
The Wallabies were stretched to the limit by Scotland who spread the ball wide, and the boytjie from Loeriesfontein who scrummed Scott Sio off the park.
Argentina’s pack, and their expansive style of play, engineered by the brilliant Juan Martín Hernández in the number 12 jersey, may just achieve what the Scots so nearly did last week.
While doing research for this article, I came across a poll on the New Zealand Herald website asking which two teams would be contesting the final. I was one of only three percent who felt that South Africa and Argentina would be the ones.
What do you think?