It wasn’t meant to be like this. They were meant to be merrily thumping inferior 6 Nations teams all the way to the semi-finals, but going against the script, we’ll be losing one of the Tri-Nations teams cocky enough to think they’re more than capable of winning the whole thing after this one. Between them, they won four of the five World Cups between 1991 and 2007, so a touch of expectation is understandable. Again, it’s a game both teams will think they’re capable of winning and as ever there’s plenty of evidence to selectively highlight or ignore, depending on your particular point of view.
‘No team that’s lost in the pool stage has gone on to win the World Cup’ is the ominous stat that Australia will be taking the next step to defying when they face South Africa. The defeat at the hands of the Irish will have damaged national pride in a way not seen since Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles, but outside of that the performances haven’t been bad, so don’t give up on them just yet. Crucially and at the cost of some cushy progress through the knock-out stages, they saved their worst display for the biggest game of the pool, but they did comfortably brush aside Italy, USA and Russia. Although, they’re now in the harder side of the draw, it should hold no fear for the Wallabies. They’ve regularly prevailed against South Africa down through the years and beating New Zealand is arguably a more popular national pastime than slagging off whingeing poms.
The World Champions have impressed in patches during the defence of their title, but there have been a few blips which may well amount to nothing, but may in retrospect also be the warning signs that something is amiss. Sadly even if we are accurate in predicting their imminent demise it will be down to dumb luck because the Springboks are prone to lapses, even in their more successful World Cup campaigns. In 2007, they allowed Tonga to get too close for comfort and on this occasion it was Samoa who pushed them harder than was expected. The Boks have turned ‘just doing enough’ into an art-form and although it sometimes makes watching them as exciting as rice-cakes and water for dinner, it helps them to dampen expectation and keep somewhat below the radar. They may not have put in a huge performance just yet, but they’re always capable of one and the Wallabies would be best advised to pretty much ignore what they’ve seen of South Africa to date.
There’s not much point in trying to convince you plump for one team over the other. Like Duncan from Blue after a few drinks, it could go either way and we’ll leave decisions about the direction up to you.