While the stakes are higher and the pressure doubled in a Rugby World Cup final, the Springboks will need to defeat their own demons in starting badly in big games in the defence of their Webb Ellis trophy when they face New Zealand on Saturday.
While much has been made of their come-from-behind wins against France and England where they looked to be heading home, only to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, the Boks know that they haven’t started well in any of the big games in France 2023 and that could be crucial going into the final week.
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly why this has been the case, and against France in the quarterfinal, they traded blow for blow with the World Cup hosts even though they conceded three first half tries and the first score.
Against England it was two penalties, and a 12-6 half-time deficit but in both those games they were in the contest at the break.
Consider back in the Rugby Championship when the Boks had — by their own admission — their “worst 20 minutes of rugby” under the current management group and allowed New Zealand to race to a 17-0 lead, something they struggled to overcome.
Against Ireland they were on the back foot in most of the first half, but did score the first points of the contest before Irish winger Mack Hansen let his side lead 7-3 at the break. The Boks missed 11 points with the boot in the game as they succumbed 13-8 at the end.
Auckland seemed to be a turning point in the build-up to the World Cup, because the Springboks bounced back with a record win over a weakened Wales in Cardiff in the lead-up to the tournament and then handed the All Blacks their heaviest defeat at Twickenham when they beat them 35-7.
In that game the Boks could have been further up than their 14-0 halftime scoreline – thanks to tries from Siya Kolisi and Kurt-Lee Arendse but powered their way in the second half thanks to a seven-one split on the bench, something that had the entire rugby world talking.
While there has been suggestions that the Boks may employ the 7-1 bench again in the final, it would incredibly risky to do so, and it is likely they will stick to the 5-3 formula that won them the playoff games thus far or the 6-2 bomb squad bench they are traditionally known for.
In both those playoff games their bench provided the perfect elixir to win the game late from behind but the Boks won’t want to make the same mistake again.
A good start would settle a lot of the nerves, and would give them the chance to build scoreboard pressure against the old enemy, which in turn brings its own pressure on the team they are facing.
Still, the takeaway from the two playoff games is that the composure of this Springbok team is undoubtedly among the best on the rugby planet and while they played badly, they have found ways to win.
With one more obstacle to a historic back-to-back defence of the title they won in Japan the Boks will know the stakes are high.
A good start could go a long way to getting them home. — SuperSport.