Mole got up with a pot of coffee to watch SA v Fiji on Saturday morning with memories of a glorious summer’s day in Marseille in his head. That game had been one of the highlights of the 2007 World Cup. The prospect of a repeat performance was quite enticing, if a little unexpected, given South Africa’s tepid display against Wales in the opener.
The non-selection of Bismarck to start has been one of the repeating themes of Mole’s observations on South Africa. This is praise of Bismarck rather than any doubt cast on John Smit. However, Smit’s a great captain and something was said by someone during the week before this game, because this was a different Springbok team from the Welsh game.
There were a few selections that ensured that this was a different team: the most notable were Lambie at full back and Francois Steyn at inside centre. Steyn is the youngest ever World Cup winner and still only 24. There seems to be a perception that he’s arrogant but having heard him interviewed on Newstalk during the season he seemed reasonable, amiable and resigned to not being selected by PdV. Lambie was labelled One to Watch in the build up to the tournament. Lambie is still only 20 but has already won the Currie Cup at fly half with the Sharks. He didn’t have his best game against Fiji but what was striking was the confidence his team mates showed in him. South Africa moved the ball into the outside channel, where Lambie was attacking, a lot. The wide attacking suited Jacques Fourie who looked dangerous and who defended very well. Fourie is renowned as being an excellent reader of the game and his ‘shooter’ defence cut off the Fijians repeatedly in the first half and forced them back inside. Hougaard again came off the bench and looked threatening and lively on the wing. Finally, Fourie du Preez came on leaps and bounds during the week and looked far sharper than the first time out. South Africa look the best value in the competition at this stage at 12/1. They have to beat Australia in the quarters rather than Ireland but they are well capable of that. Then they face New Zealand, who will be favourites, but not by a huge amount.
Fiji were disappointing. They stood deep and attacked narrowly, lacking leadership at halfback. Their game against Samoa will be very interesting. If they win, they will play Wales in the last game for a chance of a quarter final spot. If they lose, they are very probably out. Samoa seemed to harbour a grievance about their schedules but, as mentioned here earlier, they didn’t have to select their best team to beat Namibia four days before playing Wales.