Knockout rugby at its best

Henry

What a weekend for world rugby! The four exciting quarter-finals are the best advertisement for a sport that has at times been harshly criticized for complicated rules and bumper car rugby, with more scrums and lineouts than running rugby. The weekend’s events in France probably won a whole bunch of new fans for the game.

Although the Boks took the crown on a dramatic weekend, one cannot look past the other struggles. There has been a lot of talk about the move in the power of rugby to the north. Argentina, the All Blacks and the Springboks have shown that assumption may have been made too quickly. Three teams from the Rugby Championship are in the semi-finals and England is the only team from the Six Nations that remains. Of course it’s debatable whether England belongs there, but that’s just how the draw worked out.

The Argentines already showed on Saturday what tight-knit rugby can do by beating Wales 29-17. Wales were listless in the run-up to the tournament, but showed why they were one of the top teams at one stage. Just like several of the other semi-final teams, the South Americans will also lose a whole bunch of star players after the tournament. They will want to say goodbye in a fitting way against the All Blacks.

Sam Cane’s team showed why the New Zealanders can never be written off. Their upward curve continues and this does not bode well for the Boks in a possible final. As in the Boks’ battle against the French, the All Blacks and Ireland planted their best shots, but the knockout just wouldn’t come. It was the New Zealanders who ended up standing 28-24.

England will be licking their wounds today after an extremely physical clash with Fiji. The Islanders can be proud of what they have achieved and it hopefully gives momentum to even greater things. Definitely watch them in the next World Cup in 2027 in Australia. Several of England’s players looked very defiant even though they beat Fiji 30-24.

Now the English are waiting for the semi-final against the Boks – the same team that broke their hearts in 2019 in Japan.

About the Bokke’s victory of 29-28 against the French, all the adjectives have already been used up. Magnificent is one of those words that describes the perseverance and tenacity of Siya Kolisi’s team. At times it looked as if the host was going to run into them, but there was always a Goat in the way. Eben Etzebeth and Jesse Kriel were giants on defense, but you will struggle to speak ill of one of the men in the green and gold. What could have been a blue Monday for Bok supporters after a late-night game turned into a green-and-gold Monday, with the prospect of more drama to come.

With the first substitutes sent on after just 50 minutes, there were likely many supporters wondering if it was the right decision. At one stage there was panic in the Boks’ game, but the senior players like Duane Vermeulen brought calm and there was a turn in the momentum again. The sending up of Deon Fourie and Kwagga Smith was also a master move to better manage the breakdown points.

It is precisely that momentum that must be cherished now. Tough, grueling tests on consecutive weekends will take its toll. Now it’s conditioning, strategy and enough recovery time that will make the difference. The physiotherapists are probably working overtime today to rub the men right. The people on the other side of Rassie Erasmus’ microphone could probably also do with a break. It looked like he was going to have a heart attack at times as he shouted instructions.

The Boks will also want to polish a few things this week. There were a few blunders at the lineouts that need attention. The Boks also seemed to struggle with decision-making after Kolisi was replaced and Bongi Mbonambi took over from him. There was already criticism about the Bokke’s finish before and during the tournament. There were again a few lost chances in the French quarter area which could cost the Springboks dearly.

Within the larger context, these are little things that can be fixed. What will decide is the character of the team when the big moments arrive. And the men in the green and gold showed that they have the character, perseverance and tenacity of which we as South Africans can be extremely proud.