CAPE TOWN – It took a while for the Springbok slow poison to work, but when it did there was only going to be one winner in Tokyo yesterday. In rugby, a good big one is always going to beat a good small one… it is a fact of life.
As predicted, Bok power ultimately trumped Japanese pace and work ethic, with the Brave Blossoms wilting as the game moved towards the last quarter. The Japanese had held out courageously until their strength was fatally sapped by the relentless pressure from the South African big men, especially when Rassie Erasmus’ famed “second tight five” came on.
That was when a tight affair devolved into the expected rout, with a flurry of scoring from the Boks soothing the frayed nerves of their supporters who had watched their team labour clumsily for three-quarters of the match. The first half in particular made for painful viewing as the Boks squandered opportunity after opportunity. Maybe it was nerves but the Boks rushed their play, forcing 50-50 passes and kicking when they would have been better served to hang onto possession.
They started well enough, with a precocious blindside break by Faf de Klerk putting Makazole Mapimpi in for an early try that temporarily silenced the massive home support.
The home team were obviously going to make a decent fist of it and when they inevitably came at the Boks in that first half, they asked serious questions of the defence.
Unfortunately, some Boks did not cover themselves in glory when the heat was on, notably Willie le Roux, whose consistently poor form at this World Cup is alarming.
Some time ago, I would have moved Cheslin Kolbe from wing to fullback and brought in Sbu Nkosi, a player who impresses me hugely each time he pulls on the green and gold, but the time for key changes is over. Erasmus was always going to keep his matchday 23 together from the Italy game onwards, so there was also never going to be a possibility of Cobus Reinach getting the nod for De Klerk.
I still wonder when Handre Pollard is going to discover his best form. He is not playing badly, but we are not seeing him impose himself as he did in the Rugby Championship. I still think Pollard has it in him to win the World Cup for South Africa.
Perhaps I am nitpicking by criticising certain players but the reality is that the Boks’ performance against Japan was good enough to put 20 points past the tier-two team, but it would not have been good enough to beat Wales, England or New Zealand, SA’s fellow semi-finalists.
Also, there were Boks who were excellent yesterday. I thought Siya Kolisi played his best rugby of the year. He really got stuck in and set the example on defence.
Damian de Allende, a player who often takes heat for being one-dimensional, had a very impressive game and is fast becoming one of the Boks’ most-valued players. In summary, this Bok performance was flawed, but at the same time it reminded the rugby world that the South Africans have the firepower to win the Webb Ellis Cup. They just have to get more efficient at what they do.