What Can Wales And Ireland Learn From South Africa?
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South Africa held their composure when it mattered most to defeat the British and Irish Lions in their showdown in the third Test in Cape Town.
The Springboks were trailing at the break but staged a significant improvement in the second half through a score from Cheslin Kolbe before the boot of Morne Steyn secured the victory. Jacques Nienaber’s men gave Warren Gatland and his team a lesson in grit and winning ugly.
The Boks haven’t been afraid to get down in the dirt and bulldoze their way to success. This was evident in their World Cup win over England in 2019, where they absorbed pressure from the Red Rose before capitalising on their ailing legs.
South Africa were at their clinical best once again to see off the Lions, using their nous and experience to great effect.
The Boks are always a team that tends to sneak up on people when it comes to the World Cup. However, despite their past achievements, they are currently backed in the rugby betting odds at 11/2 to win the tournament in Paris in 2023. Meanwhile, New Zealand are the odds-on favourites at 9/4 and England are third-favourites with odds of 9/2.
Although the Lions were defeated, the players involved in the series will undoubtedly have learned a great deal about delivering under pressure. Learning first-hand from the Boks about playing clinical rugby will surely stand them in good stead on their return to their clubs and regular international teams. Ireland and Wales especially could benefit from the example of Nienaber’s men.
Ireland entered the last World Cup under Joe Schmidt as the top-ranked side in the world ahead of New Zealand and England. They would have been hopeful for progression beyond the quarter-final stage to challenge for the Webb Ellis Cup, having failed to advance beyond the last eight in their history.
However, once again, the Irish crumbled under the pressure of the big stage, wilting under New Zealand’s onslaught in the quarter-finals, losing 46-14. England proved that the All Blacks were beatable with a stern resolve. To lose in such a manner was extremely disappointing for Schmidt in his final act. Under Andy Farrell, Ireland now has the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and build a team that handle themselves on the world stage, using nous and discipline.
Wales were in the same boat as they had ample talent to make a charge after a brilliant run to the Six Nations crown in 2019, winning the Grand Slam in the process. They too failed to rise to the occasion to reach their first World Cup final after falling to the Springboks in the semis. It was an eerily similar defeat to the one the Lions sustained in Cape Town between two closely matched sides, but Handre Pollard’s late effort condemned Gatland’s men to defeat in Yokohama.
The grit displayed by the Boks in their high-profile matches deserves serious commendation. They make no apologies for their unabashed style of play. South Africa aren’t going to win many awards for their dynamic play on the field, but it’s definitely worth noting that this has resulted in two World Cup wins out of the last four and a recent triumph in the Rugby Championship.
The Boks have a winning mentality that Wales and Ireland would crave to have under the bright lights of the World Cup. We’ll see if they can cultivate that attitude over the next two years in time for the competition in France.