Expecting kicking and the forwards to dominate, says Bok flyhalf Pollard
The weather might decide to play ball later in the competition but don’t expect the Rugby World Cup’s (RWC) top combatants to do the same come the knock-out stages.
This tournament has hardly ever been a glorious celebration of what is good and great about the game.
In Japan the at times suffocating humidity has made for greasy conditions which have meant teams have generally been cautious before committing to carrying the ball for sustained periods.
Later this month conditions are likely to become more temperate which should make teams more assured in their passing game.
Don’t hold your breath‚ however‚ that teams will become less cautious.
RWC play-off matches are generally won by the team that plays the percentages and makes fewer mistakes. It is about holding your nerve and the tournament is often lost by the team who blinks first.
“The humidity will get better and it will be a bit colder‚” said Bok flyhalf Handre Pollard‚ with a hint of promise.
“But then again‚” his tone changed‚ “stakes get higher‚ more pressure‚ knockout games. Nobody wants to make errors. It’s funny how it always goes back to set piece and the kicking game.
“It is pretty clear all the tries have come from kicks. There is not a lot of ball in play‚ it is sweaty and Japan and maybe Australia who can keep the ball 15‚ 16 phases.
"Luckily we have been here for some time. We are prepared for that. That is going to become more of a trend as the tournament goes on. Less and less play‚ a lot more and much more set piece battles.”
His more experienced teammate Frans Steyn expressed similar views earlier this week.
The Boks‚ in fact‚ have to slip into knock-out mode a little earlier than they intended when they play Italy in Shizuoka of Friday.
They are bracing themselves for a massive forward challenge against the Azzurri and with a 60 percent chance of rain the ball is unlikely to get further than Pollard once it emerges from the protective blanket of the forwards.
“The forwards have their own beast to battle this weekend. It’s no surprise it is going to be a big battle up front‚” said Pollard.
“The weather also looks like it is going to be pretty wet‚ so that is going to make it a bit tougher.
“But we are up for the challenge‚” he said about a few choice backliners.
“Tactically‚ whoever is in (the) nine‚ 10 and 15 positions‚ we’ve got to control the game and make sure we play in the right areas of the field.
"And when we create the opportunities‚ we’ve got to convert them.
“We knew after the All Black loss that it’s pretty simple: six games‚ six wins. We’ve been treating a lot of games in these last few years like it’s a knockout game‚ and I think the (Rugby) Championship prepared us well.
“We’ve tried to hype up certain games‚ just to create more pressure internally‚ so we get experience in the situation we are in now.
“I feel the boys are well prepared for whatever pressure there is to come‚ and it is about pitching up on Friday night and producing. Don’t let the pressure get to you‚” said Pollard.