Sunday 17 November 2019

Des Berry: 'Why playing no ball is South Africa's best chance to win it all'

South Africa's head coach Rassie Erasmus (bottom C) joins players as they take part in a photo session on the eve of their final against England at the team's hotel in Urayasu near Tokyo on November 1, 2019. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
South Africa's head coach Rassie Erasmus (bottom C) joins players as they take part in a photo session on the eve of their final against England at the team's hotel in Urayasu near Tokyo on November 1, 2019. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

Des Berry

Showing nothing is the only way South Africa can win everything.

Their best chance to capture the William Webb Ellis is to do what they did against Wales, shun the temptation to play.

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The scrum, the lineout, the maul, the gain line and the high ball can be their friends.

In the aftermath of their three-point semi-final defeat of Wales, former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan went on the attack.

"It was just the type of game the tournament did not need at this stage," he remonstrated.

"They (South Africa) decided not to play rugby, take no risk, stay out of their own half.

"There will need some sort of metamorphosis to play England and win."

In fact, that is exactly the kind of game plan that can keep them close  enough to make England sweat in the World Cup final.

It was right there in Eddie Jones post match reaction on how they neutralised New Zealand in the other semi-final. 

"We knew we'd have to come off the line hard and keep taking away time and space from them.

"I think the World Cup is always about defence," said Jones.

"Our best form of attack is our defence. We created opportunities through our defence to attack."

There you have it. England generate energy and points through their hard-up defence.

They forced a whopping 20 turnovers out of the All Blacks and dominated the territory 62%-38%, putting them into an inescapable tactical strait-jacket.     

The elite athleticism and impressive organisation England have all across the board enables them to get into shape quicker and sustain their suffocating physicality for longer.   

The game will swing on the tussle for territory and Springboks Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard have never been slow to put boot to ball and Willie le Roux can be an asset in this regard too.

South Africa kicked the ball 37 times against Wales, putting the onus to play on Warren Gatland's men.

When Wales didn't take the bait, it led to bouts of kick tennis that were about as entertaining as Rassie Erasmus' game plan when head coach at Munster.

Speaking of which, what we know of Erasmus can be traced back to Munster's Champions Cup semi-final loss to Saracens in 2017.

Basically, Munster never fired a serious shot in sticking to a low risk game plan, kicking the ball 37 times, the same number that South African used against Wales.

Of course, there is no correlation between this co-incidence other than the fact it is a reflective of Erasmus's preference for a heavy dose of kicking in high pressure matches.         

Erasmus is a typical South African in that, above all else, he believes in the traditional virtues of his heritage.

In other words, when all else fails, brutality is better. 

He would have come away from that Champions Cup semi-final believing that he had the right game plan, just the wrong players to implement it against Saracens bruisers.

More than two years later, he could well test out that educated opinion by asking his defence coach Jacques Nienaber to do the same with far bigger men.   

True, England aren't Saracens. But, there are many similarities from the blitzing defence to the refusal to play from deep and the core of the personnel.

Elliot Daly is not exactly 'a bomb defuser' and Jonny May and Anthony  Watson aren't bulletproof either, although they have improved in the air.

Now, England are not inclined to play out of their own half either and they kicked the ball 32 times against New Zealand's lethal counter-attack.   

Primarily, Jones prefers his men to be in the right half of the field to implement their attack.

If the Springboks can win the kicking contest, they will be able to get their big men into the game more easily and do what New Zealand couldn't do – make it a set-piece match of muscle.

Otherwise, it is England's World Cup final to lose.

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