After their World Cup exit at the hands of Japan on Sunday, the Scotland camp reckoned the Springboks have a “tougher encounter ahead of them that they might think” – but then coach Gregor Townsend would say something along those lines after his team has just been jettisoned out of Japan.
Yes, it is going to be tough, indubitably so, but it is going to be even tougher for the Japanese, in my opinion, and I predict that the “Brave Blossoms” are in for a Bok bashing.
Why? If you ask me which are the two best tight fives at the World Cup, I would say that one is starting on Sunday in the green and gold of the Springboks, and the second one will be on the South African bench in Tokyo.
Never mind what vanquished Townsend said, I am more interested in Italy coach Conor O’Shea’s observation after his pack had been buckled and bent by the Boks, even bearing in mind that O’Shea needed to justify Italy’s heavy loss.
He said: “The power game of the Boks in that opening quarter was something our players had never seen before.
“We prided ourselves on our pack but we couldn’t live with the physicality, the raw power… There are not too many teams here that can handle that onslaught.”
He is right. Even the All Blacks were subdued in the opening exchanges of the Pool B opener back on September 21. That game was won and lost by the South Africans not taking their scoring opportunities in that first quarter when they had their foot on the All Blacks’ throat.
They should have had much more than a solitary penalty goal by Handre Pollard, and that was exposed when the New Zealanders weathered the storm and then struck with two tries.
Let’s look at the Japanese.
We know they were in camp for a year prior to the World Cup and they are consequently superbly drilled. Kiwi coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown looked at their resources and fashioned a high-tempo game that has the players exploring the width of the pitch at frantic pace, probing for holes in the defence.
Their breakdown work is technically perfect and implemented with incredible intensity.
The forwards buzz around like a swarm of bees, instantly freeing up the ball at the rucks to provide the backs with the high-octane fuel that powers the red-and-white bullet train.
But what if their pack is going backwards in the set pieces and they are then smashed backwards at the rucks? Scotland did not have the firepower to do that… the Springboks do.
There are, of course, a number of very important things the Boks have to get right. Just one of them is their box kicking. It has to be precise if the chasers are to win the ball back in the air. Too deep or too flat and the Boks will be giving the Japanese high-calibre ammunition. You don’t want them counter-attacking from poorly executed kicks.