But know that this semi-final will be decided by the big men up front
One Springbok player who’ll have more than one target on his back in this weekend’s Rugby World Cup semi-final against Wales is Bok speedster Cheslin Kolbe.
The Bok winger has been one of the standout players of this year’s tournament in Japan and ahead of the showdown with the Six Nations and Grand Slam champions of 2019, Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards singled out Kolbe as the biggest threat to his team’s hopes of making the final.
“If you want to watch a game of rugby, you want to go and watch Kolbe. We’ll have to keep an eye on him,” said Edwards, who likened the diminutive winger to former England World Cup winning star Jason Robinson.
“Kolbe’s one of the most dynamic players I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to play with Jason (Robinson) for many years and Kolbe is similar to him he’s incredibly explosive, short and defies the assumption that you have to be big to play rugby.”
Besides Kolbe in the No 14 jersey, the Boks also boast the equally dynamic and speedy Makazole Mapimpi on the left wing, something that hasn’t escaped Edwards’ eye.
“The Boks have got blowtorch speed on the edges,” he said. “If there was a 4x100m relay race with all the teams at the World Cup, they would probably be the fastest.”
The Bok game plan though is very much based on their forwards and dominating in the set-pieces. Under coach Rassie Erasmus the Bok have only played wide when in the opposition half and also only when an overlap and space has been created. Edwards is fully aware the Boks are planning to get stuck in up-front.
“I hope it is our biggest physical test yet,” he said. “The Springboks have huge forwards who like to get over the advantage line it will be a battle royale on that advantage line. Giving up the gain-line or not is the biggest indicator whether you win or lose the game in defence.”
Asked if this Wales team was better than the one that played in the semi-finals in 2011 and the quarter-finals in 2015 (when they lost to the Boks), Edwards said, “We’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out.”
One man who firmly believes Wales are the real deal is Bok assistant coach Matt Proudfoot.
“They’re ranked third in the world; they’re the Six Nations champions. They’ve got a formidable pack, which was the heartbeat of the British and Irish Lions side two years ago, and they have one of the most experienced captains in the game leading them. Wales are a formidable side,” said Proudfoot.
And, he made no secret of where the Boks would look to hit the Six Nations champions this weekend. “The plan is to utilise our pack as a weapon,” said the Bok forwards boss.
“All the teams have great packs and they all use them differently. We in the Bok team all believe in our plan and what we want to do and it’s all about creating pressure and then taking advantage. We’re all well aligned of what we want to do, and when you have that, then you can be very powerful.”
The Boks meanwhile have no injury concerns and Erasmus will have a fit squad to pick from.