The Rugby World Cup kicks off next week and as a patriotic South African I would love nothing more than a third Webb Ellis Cup for the Springboks. However, try as I might, I simply cannot shake my pessimism around the chances of Heyneke Meyer’s men this time around. The good news is that the South Africans are drawn in an easy pool. Pool B contains Japan, Samoa, Scotland and the United States of America so anything other than topping the group standings will be seen as a catastrophe. Let us be frank, even with a ‘B’ team, Meyer’s men will have too much for those other teams.
That does not mean the Japanese, Samoans, Scots or Americans should be underestimated. Certainly not. But considering the nature of the sport and factoring in the relative strength of the two-time world champions versus the comparative weakness of the Brave Blossoms, Manu Samoa, Highlanders and Eagles, any side Meyer puts out against these four should be good enough to win the day.
The Boks will qualify for the quarter-finals where they will come up against England, Australia or Wales. I am having a really hard time picking between the English and Australians but I fancy it will be the host nation that just edges Pool A ahead of the Wallabies. I predict an early exit for the Welsh. Can South Africa defeat the Aussies in a World Cup quarter-final?
South Africans love to point out how referee Bryce Lawrence’s incompetence cost John Smit’s side in the 2011 quarters. Well after dominating possession and territory the reality is that the Springboks did not even score a try that day as they exited 11-9. Say whatever you like about the refereeing, the reality is that Morne Steyn missed two kicks that day and the Boks themselves lacked imagination, as is so often the case with SA sides.
I ask with tears in my eyes, if Plan A is not working why do you persist rather than trying Plan B? If it is obvious that a referee is punishing what you are doing, then surely common sense dictates that an alternative tactic be employed. Players are frightened to death of going even slightly against the coach’s instructions for fear of being dropped for the next match so I am afraid that the blame for that defeat in Wellington lies squarely at the feet of then-coach Peter De Villiers in my book. Four years later it could happen again.
You can better your bottom dollar, or rand or pound, that Michael Cheika’s charges will relish the prospect of putting one over the South Africans yet again. The Aussies are simply far more street smart than the Boks. But what if Meyer’s men avoid the Wallabies and play England instead? Well I hardly see how a World Cup knockout match against the hosts at their hallowed Twickenham turf counts as a more comfortable prospect.
The truth is that the form of the 1995 and 2007 champions leading up to the tournament has been abysmal. The Springboks have only won one of their last five Tests. For a proud rugby nation, that is simply unacceptable. The Bible says we are spirits living in a body, but in the losses against Wales and Argentina, there was no sign of any spirit in those bodies whatsoever. Moreover I worry about the “years of experience” and “war weariness” of some of those bodies. Form is not everything of course and the tone of this blog has been negative so far so what if the Boks actually pulled off a win against either the poms or the Aussies?
Well then it is likely a semi-final against New Zealand. I feel like I could have signed off after that last period. Nevertheless if the Springboks could actually pull off a win against the All Blacks and progress to the final then they will probably come up against England or Australia (whoever avoided South Africa in the quarters), Ireland or France (to a lesser extent I think).
Can the Boks win the World Cup? Of course they can. Will they? Well, ignoring their form, the bigger question is can key players like Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen, Fourie Du Preez, Bryan Habana and Jean De Villiers stay fit, and more crucially, give the country a quality 80 minutes three weeks in a row against the sport’s heavyweights? Sure they might not need to play the full 80 but even so, I have genuine reservations. I’ll try to lift the doom and gloom and end off on a positive note. I live in hope.