|Japan beat the Springboks 34-32, the biggest upset in|
Rugby World Cup history
Jean de Villiers huffed and puffed and Bismarck du Plessis tried to batter. But, it was all to no avail.
South Africa was simply not good enough to beat Japan. Yes, you read that right.
Japan’s 34-32 win over the Springboks yesterday is the biggest upset in the history of the World Cup – a nation with the best record in tournament history losing to one that had not won a World Cup match since beating Zimbabwe in 1991.
But, on this day, Japan’s Brave Blossoms stood toe-to-toe with the mighty Boks for 80 minutes then they put an exclamation mark on their splendid performance with an audacious 84th minute try to win the game.
It says something though about the recent state of the Boks that there is a feeling something like this was coming.
Last month they were demolished in Durban by Argentina and coming into the World Cup had won just one of their last five Tests.
Again, against Japan, South Africa was outplayed in every facet of the game.
From kickoff they were slow to the breakdown and poor at it. As a result, the Boks conceded several turnovers in the first ten minutes. Their handling was poor and they lost possession in contact. The scrum was OK but it never dominated Japan.
And, as was generally the case in all aspect, Japan was much smarter than South Africa at the lineout. They circumvented SA’s prowess by being quick and imaginative. At one lineout deep in Japan’s 22, the Springboks were not even set and Japan won an uncontested lineout and survived a potentially precarious moment.
That was the storyline really.
Japan came to play winning, thinking rugby. They came with a plan. They had strategized, looked for ways to outfox their opponents. South Africa, on the other hand, simply picked the biggest and strongest guys possible and expected to run over Japan. That’s why Pieter-Steph Du Toit, a lock, was played out of position at flanker, ahead of the smaller but specialist Siya Kolisi.
Needless to say, South Africa suffered at the breakdown.
This is a 1950s mind-set.
As we have seen already at this tournament, in modern rugby every country is physically capable. Many of the players in the second tier sides play their rugby in the top leagues of the top nations such as France, England and South Africa. Japan themselves have a burgeoning domestic league which now attracts elite players. Several top South African players play in Japan.
All teams train hard and all nations here at the World Cup enjoy the benefits of sports science.
Even Ireland’s one-sided win over Canada yesterday wasn’t because they bullied their opponents. Ireland was smart. They scored through structure and ingenuity.
Simply, you will not overrun anyone at the World Cup level in this day and age.
South Africa had no ideas, no visible plans. The backline never got going and Bryan Habana was virtually non-existent.
|David takes down Goliath...|
Japan flyhalf Kosei Ono tackles Victor Matfield
South Africa should have slowly phased out their 2007 legends.
South Africa is arguably the most prolific producer of rugby talent.
By 2011 the Boks would have been an all-conquering juggernaut that has gradually been infused with these young talents.
By this year the Springboks would be fully powered by this young talent which by now would have gained plenty of Test experienced, with only a sprinkling of the 2007 heroes to guide the team.
Instead, South Africa looks to its oldest players.
You can have Victor Matfield in the team, because he is the best lineout practitioner of all time. You can have De Villiers because he is a leader. You can have Schalk Burger because he is an inspirational battering ram. But you can’t have all of three starting at the same time especially when the majority of their teammates are already a step slower as it is.
Habana isn’t the same force anymore and the same can be said of South Africa’s front row of Beast Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie.
The only positive is this defeat happened now, very early.
As head-scratching as some of Meyer’s 31-man squad selections are, he has the chance to pick a younger, fresher team for subsequent games. There are excellent younger players in the squad; Damian de Allende, Eben Etzebeth and Kolisi come to mind. They have to play.
The loss also may mean South Africa finishes second in Group B which would avoid New Zealand in the semi-finals.
Even with the loss to Japan, the Springboks remain the Springboks, a team that has lost just one World Cup knockout game legitimately.
What I mean is, in 1999 the Boks were unlucky to lose to Australia in the semis and in 2011 several calls went against the Springboks when they were knocked out in the quarters also by Australia.
The 2003 quarterfinal against New Zealand was the one time South Africa was undisputedly beaten in the business end of a World Cup.
So, if Meyer can get it together, I would still back South Africa against any nation not named New Zealand. And, the best time to face the All Blacks would be in a final.
Still, that just feels very far right now.