Stransky puts his money on Boks

Former South African World Cup-winning flyhalf Joel Stransky is backing the three southern-hemisphere powers as well as hosts France to have the biggest impact at this year’s Rugby World Cup, which kicks off on September 7.

Stransky, who slotted the extra-time drop goal to give the Boks a 1995 World Cup final victory over New Zealand, does not believe that defending champions England will be the force they were four years ago.

The English, under the guidance of captain Martin Johnson and coach Clive Woodward, beat Australia to halt the southern hemisphere’s dominance of the tournament.

But it is Jake White’s South African team, ranked the fourth best in the world, who are Stransky’s pick to emulate the team of Francois Pienaar in 1995.

“If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on South Africa,” said the former flyhalf. “They’re the complete side right now—there’s a good blend of youth and experience in the squad, pretty much like we had in 1995, and in the coaching staff and captain John Smit, there’s really strong leadership.

“There’s also tons of experience Jake can call on. A number of the guys have been to a World Cup before and many of them have played a lot of Test matches for South Africa.”

Stransky says that while the Boks’ build-up to the tournament has been good, there have also been setbacks that could play a negative role when it comes to the crunch Pool A game against England on September 9.

“The way the team played against Scotland last weekend was really impressive.
For 20 minutes they played world-champion rugby and showed how unstoppable and unbeatable they can be,” said Stransky.

“The Boks are a powerful unit up front and that’s what will be needed in the crunch games if they’re going to succeed, but concerning is still the inability of the backs to be a creative force. There’s just not enough subtlety in their approach, but with the forwards doing so much good work that sort of thing may not even be needed.”

The Boks completed their World Cup warm-up with victories over fellow competitors Namibia, Irish province Connacht and Scotland.

“With a few days to go before kick-off, I really hope some more time will go into the backs and the way they attack the gain line,” said Stransky. “I think with [former Wallaby coach] Eddie Jones in the mix, the backs might start thinking out of the box a bit and be a little more street smart. Eddie will bring a new element to the Bok team, and I like it.”

Of major concern to Stransky, though, is the fact the Boks will head to France on Monday without dynamic loose forward Pierre Spies in their ranks. Spies was ruled out of the tournament a few weeks ago after coughing up blood on the training ground and later being diagnosed with having a pulmonary embolism.

“His absence is a major blow to the team,” said Stransky. “He’s the one player who’s a real game-breaker in the forwards. He’s always involved in the action and the Boks are certainly going to miss him.”

Stransky said his countrymen will be hard-pressed by Tri-Nations rivals New Zealand and Australia. “New Zealand have had a quiet build-up and while they’ve come up short at previous tournaments, they’ll always be a factor. They can beat anyone on any given day, anywhere in the world. They’re continually taking rugby to new levels and, of course, they’ll be a major factor.

“And Australia can never be discounted. They’re a smart outfit and they’ve got the pedigree at World Cups.”

And France? “Well, they’ve shown in their warm-up matches how powerful and good they can be. Their pack is particularly effective, but they also have some fine backs. They’re a strong and extremely physical outfit and on home soil they’ll be very keen to win the Cup.”—Sapa-AFP

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