Boks must go to a dark place and unleash 'violence' in World Cup quarterfinal against France

14 October 2023 - 10:00 By LIAM DEL CARME IN PARIS
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Springboks prop Steven Kitshoff during training session.
Springboks prop Steven Kitshoff during training session.
Image: Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The Stade de France may shade even the Eiffel Tower as the most illuminated structure in all of France on Sunday night, but Steven Kitshoff has other ideas. 

“You are going to have to go to a dark place quite early in this game, because of where the physicality will be,” said South Africa's much respected and reliable loose head prop ahead of the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal. 

Indeed, the scale of the physicality in Sunday's clash has been a much talked about topic this week with France scrum coach William Servat's use of the word “violence” in reference to the way the Boks approach the collisions, perhaps bordering inflammatory. 

There was nothing lost in translation, however, as experienced flanker Charles Ollivon stayed on script on Friday. 

“Violent is the right word,” he said in reference to last November's crunch of bodies between the same teams in Marseille.

“We're expecting the same kind of match. We know the South African style. They’re well prepared to make a physical mark on their opponents. They’ll stay true to themselves.

“If I know Eben (Etzebeth), when he comes onto the pitch, it’s not to talk. Once they’re in the game, they just keep rolling out the steamroller. They’re not going to change. We’ll be ready,” promised Ollivon. 

Kitshoff, though, was keen to apply a wider connotation to his 'dark places'.

“We are going to try and push it tempo wise. It might go to a place where some players haven't been. We will have to see on Sunday whether both teams want to go to that dark spot quite early,” said Kitshoff. 

The Bok team selection certainly creates the perception that they are prepared to retain possession far more than France may have initially anticipated.

Cobus Reinach's selection ahead of Faf de Klerk and indeed that of Manie Libbok ahead of Handré Pollard, suggests the defending champions are prepared to drift from the percentage driven game that helped them win the cup four years ago. 

Bok lock Franco Mostert didn't say a lot during the team's media obligations on Friday but he did say this: “The French want a lot of quick ball in the line-out. They are not going to give you a lot of line-outs.

“Their game plan is to probably focus on long kicks because they want you to get into a kicking battle with them. For us it’s about capitalising on opportunities to give quick, clean ball to our backs.” 

The Boks raised many eyebrows in the way they assembled their bench loading it with as many as three backs. Some suggested, however, they may change it before kickoff like they did shortly before kickoff in their RWC warm-up match against the All Blacks at Twickenham in which they unleashed seven forwards against the unsuspecting Kiwis. 

Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber took time to remind that the concept of a conventional five/three bench is not completely foreign to them in matches that matter.

Nienaber with a bit of glee pointed out that the Boks won their deciding Test in their closely and bitterly contested series against the British & Irish Lions in 2021 with a five/three bench configuration. 

“If you have a guy like RG (Snyman) who can play four or five lock, and a guy like Kwagga (Smith) who can play six, seven and eight. If you have guys like that, you don't have to change anything,” said Mostert. 

That perhaps speaks to the quiet confidence that comes with being defending champions. 

Kitshoff does not need to be reminded of the gravity of the occasion, the Boks haven't had to talk up the sense of occasion but they've felt it. 

“We can definitely feel since we played Tonga and started prepping for the quarterfinal and building up into this week there has been a lot of intensity and a lot of focus to training. 

“It hasn't been hyped up about how big in history this match might be. It has been intense but it has been good and exciting and just builds on that excitement.” 

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