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Monday, March 4, 2024

‘I will fall over backwards if South Africa lose’

‘I will fall over backwards if South Africa lose’


Joel Stransky was part of South Africa’s iconic team that won the 1995 Rugby World Cup on home soil, kicking all of his team’s points as the Springboks beat New Zealand 15-12 in the final. The former fly-half looks back at South Africa’s quarter-final win over France and ahead to Saturday’s semi-final against England.

Forget the result of the last World Cup final – history will play little or no role when defending champions South Africa take on England on Saturday in the last four of this year’s tournament.

England have made the semi-finals so they cannot be completely rubbish – but they are not great.

But before we get too deep into analysing that encounter, South Africa’s quarter-final against France was everything you expect from two quality sides.

Both teams have big, powerful ball carriers and a good kicking game so it was always going to be one of those massive games of really big collisions.

It was brutal.

I thought a few decisions went our way. You have to take the luck when it comes and I would imagine that, for once, Rassie Erasmus is not going to be making a video.

But I also thought the tactical changes just after half-time by Erasmus or Jacques Nienaber, whoever makes those decisions, were sensational.

When Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen went off, I thought “what are they doing?” But on came Deon Fourie and Kwagga Smith, two guys who are unbelievable at the breakdown, and all of a sudden, with France having to chase it a bit, we slowed the ball down, won a few turnovers, won a few penalties. Tactically, we got it spot on.

It was not just one element that won us the game, it was a number of things. That includes Cheslin Kolbe charging down Thomas Ramos’ attempted conversion. We never see that.

He had a go, was determined and gutsy. It was wonderful.

South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe is seen from behind reaching up and charging down France full-back Thomas Ramos' conversion in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final
South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe pulled off the rare feat of charging down Thomas Ramos’ conversion in the quarter-final at the Stade de France

‘A great advert for our wonderful game’

The Rugby World Cup has seen quite a few incredible quarter-finals over the years and the Springboks against Les Blues was certainly one of them.

But I think the two games in Paris – New Zealand beating Ireland and South Africa seeing off France – are probably the greatest back-to-back quarter-finals.

The other two games were exciting but maybe not as intense. Certainly they were not as physical or confrontational.

The discipline from the four teams in Paris was incredible and the quality sensational.

Ultimately, we had two great spectacles and a great advert for our wonderful game.

I have to admit, I felt so bad for France, because the atmosphere in the country has been wonderful. They really embrace their team and had such high hopes, so it is a little bit sad. But obviously I am delighted the Boks found a way.

The messages I received from back home contained what I would describe as exhausted relief!

‘I cannot see the Farrell decision being reversed’

England were a bit Jekyll and Hyde in an easy pool and then had a quarter-final against a Fiji team that has not really fired.

However, they will have taken confidence from their World Cup run and Steve Borthwick tried to get on a little rant about it, saying how everyone had written them off. They will be determined to come out and have a go.

If you think about how good Ben Earl and Courtney Lawes were at the weekend, there are good players in that side. Manu Tuilagi makes a difference when carrying straight and hard while Alex Mitchell has impressed at scrum-half with his control and accurate box kicks.

When it comes to selection to face South Africa in the semis, I cannot see them reversing the Owen Farrell/George Ford decision at fly-half because you do not want to be giving away too much in that midfield channel against big, ball-carrying teams like South Africa.

Farrell defends that channel really well and the combination with Tuilagi and Joe Marchant at 10, 12 and 13 is much more solid.

South Africa also use a lot of box kicks and up-and-unders so you need wingers and a full-back who can contest the aerial battle.

For that reason, I would not be surprised to see Freddy Steward replace Marcus Smith.

Meanwhile, I thought South Africa’s half-backs were good in the win over France.

Cobus Reinach was accurate with his kicking while he brings a real sense of urgency around attack with his pace.

Faf de Klerk tried to make a difference when he came on but it was hard physically. He throws himself about but I am not convinced it is where he is best suited.

At fly-half, Manie Libbok controlled the game well and we were playing nicely until he went off.

I am not always sure Handre Pollard frees up the outside backs that well, he stands and delivers a little.

His kicking game is on point and he is rock solid in defence, but England do not offer a massive physical threat like the French, so I would not change a winning combination.

Composite image of Manie Libbok and Handre Pollard in green and gold South Africa kit
South Africa face a tough decision over whether to retain Manie Libbok (left) at fly-half or turn to a fit-again Handre Polland (right) to face England

‘I will fall over backwards if South Africa or New Zealand lose’

South African fans love watching the Springboks beat England.

I do not always know why. Maybe it is historical.

But the teams will not be thinking about the final four years ago, when the Boks beat England in Japan.

Both will be analysing the more recent games. They will be looking at the quarter-finals, how the pool games went, going player by player, phase by phase, to come up with a plan.

I think the critical thing for England is to get ahead. If they do, I think they will be tough to chase down, although I would still back the Springboks to do so.

On their day, England can raise their game but I do not think they will be putting the fear of God into South Africa or New Zealand, who I expect to beat Argentina.

You can never be 100% sure but I will fall over backwards if either South Africa or New Zealand lose in the semi-finals.

Joel Stranksy was speaking to BBC Sport Africa’s Ian Williams



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