Columnists 12.9.2015 10:04 am

Foot-in-mouth disease hits Boks

FILE PICTURE: Jake White. Image courtesy AFP

FILE PICTURE: Jake White. Image courtesy AFP

Do a small experiment and ask any follower of South African rugby for an opinion on the outcome of next Saturday’s Springbok World Cup opener against Japan in the English south coast resort town of Brighton how Heyneke Meyer’s side will approach it.

There is no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming response will be that this is the game the Bok coach will use to give players who are coming off the injury list a chance to stretch their legs, and let the members of the squad who have been inactive for a while get some game time under their belts.

I have even read reports from South Africa that the Boks intend using the game against the Brave Blossoms as a feeler for the rest of the competition and that South Africa would far rather start out against Japan than Samoa.

In my book that’s not a very clever thing to say about the Japanese … especially not with Eddie Jones at the coaching helm. Eddie has been part of the Springbok coaching team and will take over at the Stormers after his swansong with the Japanese national side in this tournament in England.

He knows from the inside how the Boks like to play and fully understands the physicality of the South African game, where the set-pieces, the rucks and mauls, and the lineout drives constitute a large part. So expect the unexpected from Eddie and for Japan to adopt a tactically different approach from their normal style of play.

Their habitual game is one of high tempo, ball-in-hand, fast-paced rugby. I would fully expect them to try and slow it down as much as possible and keep the ball in the Springbok half for as much of the 80 minutes as possible. They might even spring a surprise byfighting fire with fire and try to match the Boks in the tough forward exchanges.

Japan will know that the time on the scoreboard becomes your friend the longer a game lasts and if it is close it will tend to frustrate the Boks and perhaps even rattle them into trying to rush the pace and make mistakes. There is one other thing to remember about the Japanese.

Surrender is not part of their national psyche, even when they were on the wrong end of the 145-17 demolition the All Blacks handed them in Bloemfontein in 1995, they never stopped trying. For his part, Heyneke will be fully aware that a good start to any World Cup is a prerequisite.

A resounding win in the opening match of the campaign played a large part in the two times South Africa have won the Webb Ellis Cup; the 27-18 win over defending champions Australia under Kitch Christie in 1995 and the 50-plus points – which included Bryan Habana’s four-try haul – we put past Samoa in France at the start of the 2007 tournament. Those victories set the benchmark for what was to come.

The benchmark for Heyneke and his 2015 Springboks will be to notch up a comprehensive win over Japan and come out of the game injury-free.

 

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