Rugby world cup

Springbok Rugby World Cup loss to Ireland: What we didn’t see
Image via X @@Springboks

OPINION: Springbok Rugby World Cup loss to Ireland: What we didn’t see

The Springbok Rugby World Cup loss to Ireland has resulted in fierce criticism of the team’s selection and game plan.

Rugby world cup

Springbok Rugby World Cup loss to Ireland: What we didn’t see
Image via X @@Springboks

The Springbok Rugby World Cup loss to Ireland has resulted in fierce criticism of the team’s selection and game plan. 

Pundits and fans who were singing the praises of the Springboks and their coaches after beating New Zealand in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup and Scotland in the first round of the tournament have been hammering away at their keyboards in protest since the 13-8 loss to Ireland. Not many players or coaches were spared a harsh judgment.

The result aside, many haven’t acknowledged what an incredible game of rugby we witnessed on Saturday. It was a tight affair, although some may have preferred a more razzle dazzle game. The anti-Libbok group will point out the 5 points he missed from the kicking tee. There was much more to this game than missed place kicks though. 

We consider a few points that were not immediately obvious.

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Neither side really revealed anything

The Springboks and Irish would never go into a game with the intention to lose. What they did do on Saturday was to play to the plan they prepared for and the result of the game would be incidental, as much as that would disgust fans of either side. It is very apparent that the Irish and Springboks brains trusts are placing their bets on meeting again in the final.

Truly a case of losing the battle to win the war, although there are a few more battles for each side to overcome before they reach that point.

The Irish strategy

The Ireland team under Andy Farrell has become very well-drilled at strike plays. How they set themselves up to score. They were facing a well-established defensive system and showed Nienaber and Erasmus very little attacking options to plan for.

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Springbok mind games

When you have Rassie Erasmus and Jaques Nienaber in the mix, you need to expect the unexpected. They have already used a few diversions at Rugby World Cup 2023. It would be strange if they did not add to their current bag of tricks. 

The 7-1 bench split

Although this happened more by accident than design, the attention that was diverted from the squad was pure gold for Nienaber and Erasmus. There was nothing wrong with what they did as there are no laws that cater to how the bench is composed other than the requirement to have a complete front row available. 

The traffic lights

All followers of South African rugby know that this is nothing new from Erasmus. It started as coloured paddles in the coach’s box at the Free Stadium and progressed to him perched on the roof of the stadium with coloured lights. The Free State Stadium does not produce the same amount of noise as Stade Velodrome, Nienaber’s explanation is likely to be a little short on facts and they were using the lights instead of radio. Opposition strategists might have spent more time than necessary in trying to understand what each signal means.

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The missing ruck contest

During the game, the Irish were dominant at ruck time. What was not immediately apparent was that there was rarely a contest for possession in the ruck. Malcolm Marx is a master at this but is obviously injured. Steven Kitshoff is also exceptionally good at contesting but was strangely quiet. The same can be said of replacement Deon Fourie. Duane Vermeulen, also a master at contesting, wasn’t selected. There can be no other reason for this other than to give the Ireland coaching team nothing to work with.

The hidden maul

It is in South African rugby DNA to kick for the corner after being awarded a penalty. It was strange to see the Springboks spurn opportunities to kick for the corner and rather kick for posts. Manie Libbok’s place-kicking has been below par for a Rugby World Cup-winning team – this is aside from his exceptional open-play performance. Why start taking penalty kicks instead of going for the corner to set up a maul attack?

The second thing that brings the Springboks game plan into question is asking Faf de Klerk, who is no more than a backup kicker, to take a 50m penalty kick and not go for the lineout closer to the Ireland try line. This is another example of how the two teams showed each other nothing of what they are capable of.

The arrival of Handre Pollard

Looking from the outside, the Springboks have created a problem for themselves when it comes to team selection. Pollard, a flyhalf, has been brought back into the mix as a replacement for the injured hooker, Malcolm Marx. 

Opinions are divided on this. Many fans regard Pollard as a miracle fix for the Springboks misfiring place-kicking despite his lack of game time. The opposing opinion is that the incumbent flyhalf, Manie Libbok, is being undermined and is far better equipped as an attacking threat and being able to bring an ever-improving and dangerous Springbok backline into play. 

Pollard does have experience at inside center, so that may just be the route the Springboks take to keep Libbok at flyhalf. That sounds simple enough, but is it? Aside from Pollard’s place-kicking ability, he will offer a better out-of-hand kicking option than Damian de Allende. Will the injury-prone Pollard be able to emulate De Allende’s crashball ability? More importantly, can he fulfill De Allende’s established role in defense? 

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What else have we not seen?

That is honestly a $1million Dollar question. What else do the Springboks have up their sleeve? With Nienaber and Erasmus, we just don’t know what to expect next. Opposition analysts are in the same position. They know they are going to face something different and innovative. They just don’t know what.

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