Rugby has a problem: it’s too predictable. Of all major sports our globe has to offer, few come close to offering the same levels of surety that the oval ball can ahead of a kick-off between two sides with significant skill disparities. It’s why Japan’s gutsy win over the Springboks in 2015 instantly shot into the annuls as the biggest upset the World Cup has ever seen.
Usually, however, the reality grows tiresome whenever the quadrennial competition rolls around. Take the situation we find ourselves in heading into the weekend.
One game in and the fates of New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland are all but sealed. Thanks to the Boks’ opening loss, we can confidently look ahead to a date with the Irish — who in turn beat Scotland, the second-strongest team in their pool, to set up a first-place finish.
It’s a similar story across the landscape in Japan as the next two weeks are set to work out the finer points rather than redefine the mould.
It’s a time to rotate, rest and experiment. From a South African perspective, no fixture screams those three points quite like our northwest neighbours, Namibia.
Recently appointed Stormers coach John Dobson told the Mail & Guardian that the Springboks must use Ireland’s hammering of Scotland as a point of reference to assess what will be needed in preparation for that contest. “Ireland is the worst we could have hoped for. Because of the physicality of the game they play, it could be a blow for us,” he said. “If you watched the Ireland vs Scotland game, the Scottish were bullied.”
Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus will look to hang on to consistency in selection for the remainder of the round-robin fixtures whenever possible, while still ensuring the first 15 remain in optimum condition.
Muddying the waters is the ever-present risk of injury, especially in conditions that will provide wet pitches. The All Blacks match already cost the team the services of Trevor Nyakane, who is arguably in the best form of his career. That game also gave us scares over Cheslin Kolbe and Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Dobson agrees that the Springboks will steamroll the Namibians, Italians and Canadians, but it is for this reason he gives Erasmus room to fiddle with his starting 15 before the knockout phase of the tournament.
“We must play the squad we want to play in the quarterfinals against Italy for cohesion. For the other two games, we should look at rotating to avoid the little injuries that might occur,” Dobson said.
But with the probable Irish match still three games away, and the defeat to the All Blacks still lingering in the Bok camp, the attitudes of the men in green and gold will need to be as resilient as ever.
Dobson felt that the scoreline in the Boks’ opener did not reflect the entirety of the game, but believes that a mental route to recovery for the players lies in professionalism.
“If I was Siya [Kolisi], I would look at the game forensically, not get too emotional going forward. Analyse the statistics, because we had the better of it and say we are going to get them in the final, and we will beat them,” he said.
For the next step forward only winger Makazole Mapimpi and centre Lukhanyo Am will be handed back-to-back starts against Namibia, while nine players will get their first run out of the competition. With Siya Kolisi on the bench, Schalk Brits, who slots in at No 8, will pick up the captaincy.