England v South Africa: ‘I will fall over backwards if South Africa lose’ – Stransky

Joel Stransky was part of South Africa’s iconic team that won the 1995 Rugby World Cup on home soil, kicking all of his team’s points as the Springboks beat New Zealand 15-12 in the final. The former fly-half looks back at South Africa’s quarter-final win over France and ahead to Saturday’s semi-final against England

Forget about the outcome of the most recent World Cup final; history will have little to no bearing on this year’s semifinal match between South Africa and England, the reigning champions.

England is hardly excellent, but given that they advanced to the semifinals, they cannot be entirely terrible.

But before we delve too further into that matchup’s analysis, let’s just say that South Africa’s quarterfinal matchup with France was exactly what you would expect from two elite teams.

It was always going to be a big game with a lot of major collisions because both teams have large, strong ball carriers and a good kicking game.

It was harsh.

I believed a couple judgments were in our favor. Rassie Erasmus is probably not going to be filming a video for once, but you have to take the luck as it comes.

But I also think Erasmus or Jacques Nienaber, whoever takes those decisions, made some spectacular tactical adjustments right after halftime.

I wondered, “What are they doing?” when Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen went off. But when Deon Fourie and Kwagga Smith entered the game, two players who are great at the breakdown, we suddenly slowed the ball down, forced a few mistakes, and scored a few penalties while France was forced to chase it down. The strategy we used was perfect.

It was not just one element that won us the game, it was a number of things. That includes Cheslin Kolbe charging down Thomas Ramos’ attempted conversion. We never see that.

He had a go, was determined and gutsy. It was wonderful.

South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe is seen from behind reaching up and charging down France full-back Thomas Ramos' conversion in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final

‘A great advert for our wonderful game’

The quarterfinal matchup between the Springboks and Les Bleus was unquestionably one of the most thrilling in Rugby World Cup history.

The best back-to-back quarterfinals, in my opinion, were New Zealand’s victories over Ireland and South Africa over France in Paris.

Though perhaps not as fierce, the next two games were nevertheless thrilling. They were undoubtedly less aggressive or physical.

The four teams in Paris displayed great discipline and sensational quality.

In the end, we had two fantastic shows and a fantastic promotion for our fantastic game.

I have to admit, I felt so bad for France, because the atmosphere in the country has been wonderful. They really embrace their team and had such high hopes, so it is a little bit sad. But obviously I am delighted the Boks found a way.

The messages I received from back home contained what I would describe as exhausted relief!

‘I cannot see the Farrell decision being reversed’

In an easy pool, England was a little bit Jekyll and Hyde, and in the quarterfinals, they faced a Fijian side that hadn’t exactly been on fire.

They will, nonetheless, have grown more confident as a result of their World Cup success, and Steve Borthwick attempted to go on a mini-rant about how everyone had written them off. They’ll be determined to show up and try.

There are talented players on that team if you consider how good Ben Earl and Courtney Lawes were over the weekend. When Manu Tuilagi carries straight and hard, it makes a difference, and Alex Mitchell has made an impression at scrum-half with his discipline and precise box kicks.

I don’t see them changing the Owen Farrell/George Ford choice at fly-half for the semifinal match against South Africa because you don’t want to be giving away too much in that midfield channel to large, ball-carrying teams like South Africa.

Farrell does a great job of blocking that channel, and his combination with Joe Marchant and Tuilagi at positions 10, 12, and 13 is much more reliable.

Because South Africa frequently employs box kicks and up-and-unders, you also need wingers and a full-back who can compete in the air.

Because of this, I wouldn’t be shocked if Freddie Steward took Marcus Smith’s place.

Meanwhile, I thought South Africa’s half-backs were good in the win over France.

Cobus Reinach’s kicking was precise, and his pace gives an attack a genuine sense of urgency.

When he entered the game, Faf de Klerk tried to make a difference, but it was physically challenging. He moves around a lot, but I’m not sure if that is where he belongs.

Manie Libbok did a good job of controlling the game at fly-half, and we were playing well until he was sent out.

Handre Pollard stands and makes a few deliveries, but I’m not always confident in how well he frees up the outside backs.

I wouldn’t alter a winning combination because of his accurate kicking and rock-solid defense, but England does not pose the same physical threat that France does.

Composite image of Manie Libbok and Handre Pollard in green and gold South Africa kit

‘I will fall over backwards if South Africa or New Zealand lose’

South African supporters like seeing the Springboks defeat England.

Sometimes I can’t explain why. It might be historical.

However, the teams won’t be reflecting on the final from four years ago, when South Africa defeated England in Japan.

Both will analyze games from more recent years. In order to formulate a strategy, they will consider the results of the pool games and the quarterfinals, going player by player and phase by phase.

I believe that progress is essential for England. If they do, I believe it will be difficult to track them down, but I would still support the Springboks in doing so.

On their best days, England can play better, but I don’t believe they will be terrorizing South Africa or New Zealand, the teams I anticipate to defeat Argentina.

Even while you can never be really certain, if either South Africa or New Zealand lose in the semifinals, I shall collapse.

Joel Stranksy was speaking with Ian Williams of BBC Sport Africa.

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