The World Cup final will not be on the minds of the Springboks this week before their semi-final matchup against England on Saturday at the Stade de France (9 p.m. kickoff).
That was the opinion of former Bok captain Bob Skinstad, who spoke with URC CEO Martin Anayi yesterday on a media call for the Vodacom United Rugby Championship from London. Skinstad also said that he had the honor of attending the quarterfinal matches between South Africa and France and Ireland and New Zealand last weekend at the Stade de France, and that there wasn’t much separating the four semifinalists.
The All Blacks are the favorites to defeat Argentina in the other playoff on Friday at the same Saint-Denis location.
Despite being the only unbeaten team remaining in the competition, Siya Kolisi’s team will be expected to easily defeat an England team that hasn’t played well in France despite being the only other unbeaten team.
They defeated Samoa 18-17 to avoid losing in the group stages, and they defeated Fiji 30-24 in the quarterfinal match last Sunday in Marseille.
The Boks, on the other hand, have had a fantastic tournament, despite losing their first match 13-8 to Ireland. On Sunday, they also defeated the event’s hosts, France, 29-28, thanks to a heroic effort.
Skinstad does not, however, think that the team led by coach Jacques Nienaber will have an easy trip to the championship game.
“I was incredibly lucky to be at both those quarter-finals. They were probably two of the best rugby games I have ever seen in my entire life, back-to-back,” Skinstad said yesterday.
“I thought Ireland-New Zealand couldn’t be topped, and then South Africa-France almost did just that.
“(But) No semi-final is won in the quarter-final! And I think the Springboks are probably aware of that.
“So, the England side haven’t lost yet. They continue to build momentum, and they get better each time they play.
“South Africa will be very cautious of them, and that semifinal game in particular will be very challenging to predict.
“I believe England will be waiting for them, and South Africa will be well-prepared.”
Last Saturday at the Stade de France, the All Blacks shocked the odds by defeating the then-World No. 1 team Ireland 28-24. As a result, skipper Sam Cane and his squad will be anticipated to easily defeat Argentina in Friday’s first semi-final.
However, Los Pumas pulled off the unbelievable and won their first-ever match against the Kiwis in New Zealand with a 25-18 victory in Christchurch in August of last year. This success came after a 25-15 triumph in Sydney in November of the previous year.
Coach Michael Cheika will drill belief into his Argentina side, and Skinstad also feels it’s not a straight-forward outcome.
Argentina has managed to advance more stealthily than other teams, comparable to how England did. Now that they are facing a team that they have recently defeated and begun to develop confidence against, as well as a team that has helped them recently reach the winner’s circle, they are in a difficult situation, he added.
They would therefore be lot more confident than they were in the past.
Because of how brilliant New Zealand was against Ireland, it certainly enhances the spectacle of the semi-final.
“They had a 100% carrying rate, five scrums, and zero to Ireland – I’ve never seen those types of stats in a game, so it means they had no handling mistakes…
“If New Zealand are in that kind of imperious form, then of course, it will be difficult for Argentina.
“But as we’ve heard from the Argentina coaching staff – and we know that there is a very famous Australian (Cheika) who likes to talk to the media every now and then, but he has just said, ‘We’ll take it game by game, and we love the opportunity to take on one of the best teams in the world’.”