The Springboks’ semifinal victory over England highlighted some key aspects of the South Africans’ play. Here’s what the All Blacks coaching staff might have been looking out for as the Rugby World Cup final nears.
27th minute: Bok lineout wobbles
Hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi fluffs a lineout throw with his side hot on attack. It’s his second not-straight delivery from a good position, and comes after the English had quelled two driving mauls from successful lineouts. The Boks chose to kick for lineout drives rather than booting relatively safe three-point chances.
With their key set piece creaking under pressure, the reigning champions looked ropey. After targeting Ireland’s lineout in their epic quarter-final victory, the All Blacks might sense a chance to destabilise the Boks’ big platform.
28th minute: There’s only one ref
South African fans reach for the pitchforks and flaming torches after referee Ben O’Keefe penalises Eben Etzebeth for going around the back of an English ruck. The Kiwi whistler had clearly told Etzebeth not to do it.
Etzebeth makes the quite reasonable point that English No 8 Ben Earls (who is at the back of the ruck) has two hands on the ground, meaning he’s off his feet and not considered the last feet at the breakdown.
O’Keefe’s point is also a good one: There’s only one ref, mate. Do what he tells you.
31st minute: Handré Pollard comes on
With half an hour gone, the Springboks thinktank see the merit in having a first five-eighths on the field for a Rugby World Cup knockout match. Utility-dasher Manie Libbok leaves the park as Handré Pollard runs on.
Pollard immediately takes control of the Bok backline’s direction, and his siege-canon right foot plays a vital part in the final result.
Libbok is a flyer, but they look a better, more organised team when Pollard is on. And woe betide any All Blacks second rower from a well-established Taranaki rugby family who decides to do something daft in a ruck within 50 metres of their own goalposts.
53rd minute: England’s stretch
Owen Farrell booms over a beauty of a drop goal. His snapshot puts the underdogs two scores clear of the reigning champions, with the scoreboard reading 15-6.
56th minute: Bok bench
When Vincent Koch takes the field, the Boks have emptied out their entire bench. It’s not quite the bomb squad, but their substitutes certainly bring more impact than England’s, and the set pieces seem to be more settled.
59th minute: Nche doesn’t give an inch
Kurt Lee-Arendse spills the ball after a clever long-grubber kick from Farrell, and a hard chase from Johnny May. The knock-on sets up the English pack with an attacking scrum near the Springbok line.
An English score from here would likely be a killer blow.
But Ox Nche gets the better of Kyle Sinckler, winning a penalty as the front rows pop up. The Boks’ scrum effort is a belter – and will surely have caught the attention of All Blacks forwards gaffer Jason Ryan.
62nd minute: Water bores
Like fans watching from home, referee O’Keefe has grown tired of seeing coaching staff run on the field with water bottles at every stoppage. He warns the captains he’ll penalise teams if it continues.
With the All Blacks backing themselves to win the war of lung capacity in next weekend’s final, it’s encouraging to see time-wasting tactics stamped out. Kiwi O’Keefe won’t get to whistle that match, but it’d be nice to see this message picked up.
69th minute: That try
South Africa’s monster lock RG Snyman bags the game’s only try after a successful lineout take from seven metres out. When their set piece works, the Boks machine is ferocious. Momentum is all with the men in green.
78th minute: Pollard pings penalty
Following a scrum bust-up and some pushing and shoving, South Africa’s flyhalf nails the winner from 49 metres. The dream final is confirmed: All Blacks v Springboks.
Winston Aldworth is NZME’s Head of Sport and has been a journalist since 1999.
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