Sunday 15 September 2019

Neil Francis - There is a clear reason why World Rugby want South Africa to host the 2023 World Cup... and it's not money

Iain Henderson is tackled by Damian de Allende. Photo: Sportsfile
Iain Henderson is tackled by Damian de Allende. Photo: Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

A strangely soul-less game in the Aviva yesterday. South Africa, a proud rugby nation, have a rich heritage in the game, but were clueless to the point of being lamentable. The limited nature of their game will rubber-stamp their descent into becoming a minor rugby nation. At no stage did they look like they would threaten Ireland's line, and their resolve and conviction was broken well before Jacob Stockdale's try in the left corner as time was up.

What can South Africa do? Their coach has a win ratio of less than 40 per cent. France and Wales should get the measure of them, and Italy could conceivably beat them again. Their coach Alastair Coetzee should step down after the tour but it begs the question about succession.

This South African side will not get any better under their current management ticket. What sort of a risk is Rassie Erasmus taking with his career? Munster, too, maybe jumped a little early in picking Johann van Graan if he is one of South Africa's chief architects. Where does that performance rate on his CV? As I write this piece from the Aviva Stadium, I look at the post-match interviews with Eben Etzebeth. I can't hear what he is saying on the television monitor. I'm not a clinical psychologist but the body language tells me all I need to know. South Africa have an arsenal of quality players but most of that squad will be heading to Europe either next season or directly after the 2019 World Cup.

There is a reason why World Rugby has very plainly decided that they want the 2023 World Cup to be held in South Africa: if they don't host it then the lights go out for rugby in that country.

Any South African watching that performance from their national side would have preferred a week of water- boarding. The fundamentals of the modern game have eluded them, and it may be a cliche but once they can't bully you, the game is over. Yesterday Ireland met them head on in the physical stakes and did not let up for the full 80. Once that happened it was down to organisation and structure, and with Joe Schmidt in charge there was only going to be one winner.

Are we being a little unfair on Ireland after their record victory over a former superpower? The primary ingredient in Ireland's victory yesterday was their line-speed and the surety of their tacklers. South Africa just didn't have the wit to know what to do with the ball after three or four phases and eventually Ireland put them off when they had either run out of ideas or run out of men. The key difference when the ball was in play was that Ireland's donkeys could pass and more importantly knew when to pass. South Africa had plenty of forceful runners but Ireland took them down, and South Africa had neither the skill set nor the intelligence to counter this.

Ireland are indeed the All Blacks of Europe, as they were called by Coetzee during the week. They are a very clever side with clever half-backs and enough experience, particularly in their back row, to know what to do at exactly the right time. Sporting wisdom often consists mainly of knowing what to do next. Improvidus, apto quod victum - which means improvise, adapt and overcome. On a cerebral level Ireland were unquestionably vastly superior. In meaty encounters such as yesterday's, Ireland have to be brave and confrontational.

Great things never come from comfort zones. The question here again was how far were Ireland out of their comfort zone in a match which they won 38-3? Could Ireland have won by more? You can never under estimate the power of simplicity, which is the cornerstone of Schmidt's game plan but yesterday, with South Africa's vulnerable back three ready to be taken to pieces, Ireland did not enjoy a great day in the air looking to retrieve boxed ball. Andrew Conway and Stockdale had very satisfactory games and some of the things they did yesterday were really brilliant, but they may have to do even better in chasing and gathering ball in the air in the short term.

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Elton Jantjies is a talented player. He was replaced by Handre Pollard in the last quarter of the game. Jantjies is a skilful player but after 20 games at Test level it has been proven conclusively that he cannot manage a game for the Springboks.

It is one of the things that Schmidt will have to concentrate on for the next two years, to make sure that Sexton arrives in Japan match fit and healthy.

Yet again, what we have at 10 and what the South Africans had mirrored the difference between the sides.

How often will Leinster get to use Sexton this season? The trouble with super heroes is what to do between telephone booths. Johnny actually smiled yesterday - there is a possibility that he is enjoying his career at the moment. His big-match temperament shone through yesterday and his tact and guile were of enormous value to his side.

Ireland's pack were superb, an essay in collaboration, unity and trust. A selfless performance from their back row, and although Iain Henderson knocked on one or two balls, he is one of the most dynamic second rows in world rugby and his interventions yesterday in a game of high intensity and aggression edged Ireland into the winners' enclosure.

Ireland's midfield had a good day. Bundee Aki put in a big hit on Coenie Oosthuizen, but it was a horrible moment for the South African prop as he was manhandled in the tackle and suffered a hyper-extension to his knee. Aki was just announcing himself to the international community. One thing I was not aware of was the quality of his passing: three or four times during the game he sent accurate cut-out passes off his left hand straight to Ireland's wingers and got them away up the field.

Ireland's discipline was yet again excellent for most of the game. They became a little ragged 10 minutes either side of half-time but kept their penalty count down to eight and were very composed at the breakdown. This, though, was not a match where they were exercised in pushing the boundaries and it may be quite difficult to keep them focused for the Fiji and Argentina games.

As for South Africa, their difficulties look irresolvable and the announcement of the 2023 World Cup will be of little consolation after a performance like that.

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