The squad that Rassie Erasmus announced for their Rugby World Cup semifinal mach against Wales points to no changes to the Springbok game plan.
The Springbok squad
One change to the team
One change has been made to to the team that defeated Japan in the quarter-final. One of the players of the tournament, Cheslin Kolbe, has not recovered from an ankle injury he has been struggling with since the game against Italy and hurt again last week against Japan. The Springboks are fortunate to have the more than capable S’bu Nkosi to replace him.
Wales have also lost key players, in Liam Williams due to an ankle injury and Josh Navidi to a hamstring tear.
What we can expect from the Springboks
There are two considerations here. What has worked for the Springboks thus far and what can we glean from the squad announced.
What has worked
Although unpopular with very many South African supporters, Faf de Klerk’s box kicking plays a pivotal part in the bigger picture of how the Springboks approach the game. The two keys to their approach are a solid set piece and an aggressive defense.
That aggressive defense relies on an aerial attack to catch opponents behind the advantage line to compete for possession or force mistakes. That same defense is important when their opponents are playing with ball in hand. Their line speed puts pressure on attacking intent, but it is their ability to make dominant hits that has been most profitable.
De Klerk’s accuracy with his box kicks has not necessarily been great during this Rugby World Cup, but the Springbok defense has still made them effective. The Springboks are not scared to play rugby with very little possession.
The squad composition
The squad selected once again points to very little change to their outlook. The biggest clue to this is the composition of their bench. Six forwards and two backs. The Springboks are planning another brutally physical attack in the forward pack. With only two backs on the bench, there are no plans to make any tactical back line substitutions until at least the 65th minute. The risk is simply too high if there is an injury after a tactical substitution.
The Springboks game plan will be to hammer away at the Wales forwards at set piece time. Throw into that their strong driving maul and aggressive tackling and you have the recipe for a very tight, tense and physical encounter. Wales will probably respond with reliance on continuous phase play and keeping the ball in play to stretch the big Springbok pack. In this lies the true test. Can they do so at a high enough pace to blunt the Springboks physical approach to the game? We might also expect full back Willie le Roux to be tested under the high ball. He has not been in great form and could be seen as a player to target.
Wales have every right to feel confident going into this game. They have enjoyed a period of dominance over the Springboks recently. On the flip side, this is not the same team that they have beaten recently, even if the player resources are pretty much the same. The 2019 version of the Springbok team has new assistant coaches, a new defensive system, an adjusted pattern of play and a new belief. They are possibly the most improved tier one rugby nation over the last 12 months.
The shadow of Jerome Garces
To say that Jerome Garces is unpopular in South Africa would be kind to Garces. He has not endeared himself to fans, with most of the 50/50 calls seeming to go against the Springboks. Their success rate with him holding the whistle is strangely disproportionate when compared to their overall success rate. One win in ten attempts beggars belief, but that is what it is.
No matter what the feelings are about Garces, there is one indisputable fact. He will have the whistle in hand on Sunday and will be in control of the Springboks vs Wales Rugby World Cup Semi-final. This is where the Springboks can take ownership of the situation. Captain Siya Kolisi has been working on his referee management, but he will have to be on point on Sunday to ensure that he gets into Garces’ ear early in the game, before there is any controversy. He needs to win him over. Secondly, they need to take Garces perceived influence out of the game. Their discipline has to be exemplary. Get that right and the rest starts to look after itself.
Expect a nerve-wracking 80 minutes on Sunday, whichever team you support.
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