the rugby world cup
the rugby world cup in france has finally kicked off for south africa and we made a great start, beating samoa 59 – 7.
samoa are a really tricky prospect and at times the game was rather closer than the scoreline suggests. samoa are the most physical rugby team and are a biiig bunch of boys. they’re tackling is ferocious and when they run they look like charging rhinos. the springboks (“bokke” for short in afrikaans) aren’t little puppies either and are one of the hardest tackling teams in world rugby and take some stopping when they get going. as such this was an incredibly physical encounter – probably one of the most physical contests i’ve seen in a long time. and one which samoa, at times, looked to be getting the better of.
south africa’s schalk burger, in a picture that looks like he’s attacked the samoan bloke like some animal! the photo illustrates just what a bruising encounter this was…
south africa started well, racking up a few penalties, but then samoa came rampaging back with a try, making the score 9 – 7 to the springboks. thereafter it was a matter of samoa going mental and south africa having to put in tackle after tackle as the pacific islanders kept on coming at us. it was a really tough time and even though we managed to score two tries there was a sense at half-time that if we didn’t change our gameplan samoa would’ve run all over us. as it was, i felt we were quite lucky to limit samoa to only one try.
percy montgommery kicking for the posts.
at half-time there was a brief little mention of the game in the studio (before they went to the england camp) and francois pienaar (ex south africa rugby player) summed up the game perfectly, by saying that we were playing to samoa’s strengths in playing the game lose and that if we kept the game tighter and simpler samoa wouldn’t be such a handful anymore. sean fitzpatrick, being the eternal tosser that he is, smugly disagreed.
the second half started with even more intensity and samoa came at us like rabid pitbulls. again, our tackling needed to be at its best and we were lucky not to concede any more tries. there was clearly a change in strategy and south africa were trying to apply francois pienaar’s advice of keeping the game tighter, and after the barrage at the start of the second half, the strategy started to pay off. we focused on the set plays and samoa were soon floundering, and it wasn’t long before the tries started pouring in.
south africa focusing on the set plays.
initially we were just edging our way forward and even though it looked like we’d win, it didn’t look like it would be by a giant margin – perhaps a 35 – 7 score or something. then francois steyn (a substitute) started exerting his influence and he started varying our play. he had an amazing game and once again showed why he is such a find. steyn has such vision and a really good rugby brain, and is a joy to watch. south africa are team that is traditionally about strength, speed and directness and can though they can be predictable, there game is extremely effective when they are playing well. as such, we aren’t renowned for our creativity, so you can imagine my joy when we finally do unearth a player with real flair and vision.
with steyn’s influence south africa ran riot and scored 8 tries. apart from the scoreline it was a very good result for a few key reasons: for the first time in a long time south africa are showing that they can vary their strategy, should plan A not work; francois steyn is starting to fulfill his promise and exerted a strong influence on the game; the wonder that is brian habana.
brian habana – the man who races cheetahs (as the commentators are so fond of continually telling us). habana has been a class act all season and went into the world cup ranked as the best winger in the world. still, the world cup is another level and the pressure alone makes it harder to perform at one’s best on this, the greatest stage of all. habana came out flying, though and if anything has gone a step toward enhancing his already massive reputation. he scored four tries and although samoa aren’t the best of teams, habana’s pace was truly frightening (for any non-south africans 🙂 )!
habana pulling a funny face before blitzing towards the tryline.
his fourth try was particulary impressive when he showed his strength in breaking through some of those huge samoan tackles and ran a very intelligent line, before putting on the after burners and just tearing away towards the try-line. he is that rare thing – a truly quick winger, and as such gives us a big edge in any game. while habana is on the wing, there is always the chance that at any moment he could do something spectacular.
this is the best quality clip that i could find of him – its habana playing for his provincial team, the bulls:
the result definitely lifted my mood after france’s terrible loss in the opening game to argentina. it might not quite seem right that i support both france and south africa, but what’s a man to do if he was born to a french father and a south african mother?
france’s loss seriously jeopordises there chances of achieving anything in this world cup. their game against ireland is now an absolute must-win game and even if they win that they might end up finishing in the dreaded second place in group d. why is second place so dreaded, you ask? because the reward for finishing second is a quarter final match against new zealand – the one team you simply do not want to play, at least not too early in the world cup.
the all blacks performing the haka – their pre-match tribal-chant-thingie.
there is the sense that should france meet new zealand in the final then euphoria of the occasion and home support would give france a real good chance of beating new zealand. a quarter final in bloody cardiff… well, that’d be a very hard task indeed. but still, if they get there they’ll be grateful for reaching the quarter finals at all, so i’m sure they’ll be up for it. still, france wouldn’t want to face them in the quarters if it can be avoided.
the only way france can still finish top is if they beat ireland and then ireland beat argentina, which isn’t entirely unlikely. there is one good thing to france finishing second in the group, though (even if it might mean an early rectal examination for our boys) and that is that france and south africa won’t meet in the semi final. france against south africa is my personal nightmare. i watched them play each other once and that was in the 1995 semi final. it was awful. i was torn. it was so awful that i haven’t been able to watch them play each other since.
i know i should look at it from the perspective that no matter what happened, i won, but the way i feel about it is that no matter what happens i lose…
but the semi final is a long way off and south africa and france may not even reach it – so we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. right now i am just excited that the world cup has finally started and overjoyed at how good south africa played! i just hope my frenchies can show their true form too.
next up for france is namibia on sunday and for south africa its england on friday.
by the way, if any of this is greek to you then you can check out my rough guide to rugby that i’ll be putting up in the next few days.