How’s everyone else feeling about the countdown to the Rugby World Cup final?
My nerves are shattered already – thanks for asking.
It’s only now beginning to sink in that the Springboks, who lost to Wales and were thumped 38-3 by Ireland less than two years ago on their end-of-year tour, will play in rugby’s biggest showpiece.
Heroes have stepped up, with Cheslin Kolbe now an internationally recognised superstar and the likes of Damian de Allende winning back public favour, and the nation is united behind Siya and the boys.
As for Faf de Klerk – well, whatever you think of the man’s box kicks, you have to applaud his guts and 100% commitment.
Watching the English beat the All Blacks on Saturday was quite tough, if only for the fact that they looked like such a polished outfit that it’s hard to imagine how we can beat them.
If you’re looking for a morsel of hope to hang on to, it’s the Springboks’ fortress-like defence that gives us a shot.
Let’s get right to the incredible stat you came here for:
1,6 metres per carry – that is insane. England’s attacking game and speed of ball retention at the breakdown was impressive, but they’re up against a different beast this weekend.
On the field, some of our hits have been massive, but so much of the hard work goes on behind the scenes.
As the Rugby World Cup’s official site points out, Jacques Nienaber, the Springbok defence coach, has delivered the goods:
“We’ve been under pressure to redeem ourselves over the past few years,” said Erasmus. “Back in 2016 and 2017 almost every team we played gave us a hiding. When we came together in early 2018, we were trying to get that respect back.”
So Erasmus turned to his old friend Nienaber. The pair have a deep bond which goes back to their days in the army, and later as colleagues across the professional rugby world from the Free State Cheetahs to Munster. Quite simply, his job was to patch up the Springboks’ leaky defence into one which could keep even the best attacking sides at bay, and he had 18 months in which to do it.
In the months that followed, the transformation has been remarkable. While other teams have looked to add invention to their attacking phase play, South Africa have focused on becoming one of the most well-drilled teams in world rugby. Their game is based largely around a powerful pack who roam the gain line, determined to win collisions in both attack and defence, as well as dominating set-pieces.
How’s this for a measure of our defensive improvement – in 2016, we conceded 329 points in 12 matches, which is just over 27 per game.
Compare that to 2019, where we have conceded just 126 in 11 tests, which comes in at a shade over 11 points a match, and you get a sense of how far we’ve come.
In a sign of how important defence is to a winning outfit, the four teams that have conceded the fewest points per match on average in 2019 – South Africa, England, New Zealand and Wales – were the semi-finalists.
It may not be pretty, but it’s sure as hell effective.
Earlier this morning, the referees for the final two matches were announced. Sorry to tell you, but Nigel Owens is nowhere to be seen.
Jerome Garces will blow the final, and will be assisted by fellow Frenchman Romain Poite and New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe, with another Kiwi, Ben Skeen, the television match official (TMO).
At least we’re used to his reffing style now, having had him twice this tournament already, and we know the French hate the English, so…
Jaco ‘The Flying Elbow’ Peyper returns to duty for the third-place playoff, albeit as an assistant referee, with Englishman Wayne Barnes running the show.
The countdown begins. We’re in with a shot. Everybody, try and hold it together.
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