South Africa play Fiji in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals in Marseilles on Sunday with a game plan based around a return to basics in a bid to nullify the Pacific Islanders’ flair and raw talent.
The Springboks are sure to dominate the set-piece, Fiji having suffered in the scrum throughout their pool games against Japan (35-31), Canada (29-16), Australia (lost 55-12) and Wales (38-34).
With the vaunted Victor Matfield to contend with in the line-out, the Fijians will also struggle for parity, meaning they might abandon a kicking game in favour of running at all costs.
South Africa coach Jake White argued that hatching a victory over Fiji was not ”rocket science”.
Possession of the ball in contact against Fiji, an area where South Africa suffered in their narrow 30-25 pool victory over Tonga, was essential, said White.
”The two biggest threats from Fiji are that they are sevens exponents, they can step and break tackles, and one-on-one they can beat most people,” he said.
”They probably also have a huge amount of confidence. So when you play a team like that it’s always going to be difficult. But it’s not rocket science, we’ve got to make sure we stick to what we do well.”
Fiji have been hit hard by the loss of key playmaker Nicky Little, who strained knee ligaments against Wales and who will likely be replaced by either centre Seremaia Bai or rookie Waisea Luveniyali.
But Fiji’s forwards coach Joji Rinakama said the game would be won by the front five.
”South Africa are always aggressive,” said Rinakama. ”The key for us will be the set piece. We had 39% possession against Japan and we won the game. We had 41% against Canada and we won the game.
”Against Wales we won 100% of our line-outs and had 50% possession, so if we can secure 50% or 60% or 70% possession on Sunday we can beat them.”
White said the Boks were prepared for Fiji’s offensive defence, looking to turn over ball away from the set piece to free up their dangerous backline.
”They give you first-phase possession, and attack second and third phase and try and get some turnover ball and then they can use their athletes out wide,” said White.
”It’s quite simple, you can get first phase. We back ourselves at line-out time and scrum time. The secret is to hold on to the ball. We can’t be turning it over and giving it to them in open play.
”It’ll be a case of making sure you keep the ball in the tackle. That’s where Tonga came back at us.”
The mood in the Fijian camp has been one of a laid-back confidence that the dreams of the island nation could continue.
”South Africa are a world-class team, a great side. But Tonga took them to the wire, so why can’t we?” asked Fiji captain Mosese Rauluni.
”Our main goal was to get to the World Cup quarterfinals, but why not now set that goal higher and aim for the semifinal?” — AFP
Team: Percy Montgomery; JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Francois Steyn, Bryan Habana; Butch James, Fourie du Preez; Dannie Rossouw, Juan Smit, Schalk Burger; Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha; CJ van der Linde, John Smit (captain), Os du Randt. Replacements: Gary Botha, Gurthro Steenkamp, Jannie du Plessis, Johann Muller, Wikus van Heerden, Ruan Pienaar, Wynand Olivier, Andre Pretorius (one to be omitted)