by Jan de Koning
Bok passion needed
The Springboks are on 'red-alert' ahead of their decisive 2003 Rugby World Cup Pool C clash against Samoa in Brisbane this Saturday. The match will decide which of the two teams will advance to the quarter-finals, alongside pool leaders and tournament favourites England. Rudolf Straeuli acknowledged that Samoa pose a much bigger threat to his team than what most people would have predicted, with the Bok coach admitting that he has already had second thoughts about his tactics for the showdown.
This sudden turnaround follows Samoa's impressive performance against England in Melbourne on Sunday. Despite going down 35-22, Samoa came close to a big upset and it was in the final 10 minutes only that England finally managed to secure the victory. Straeuli was quick to recognise the threat posed by the Samoans to his team's aspirations of advancing to the play-offs. He was in Melbourne to witness first-hand how the Samoans kept the England juggernaut on the back-foot for 60 minutes, before fatigue got the better of them. Apart from stunning Martin Johnson's team by taking a 10-0 lead inside the first seven minutes, they then held a 16-13 lead at the break as well as a 22-20 lead at the three-quarter mark in the game. It was Samoa's desire for victory that they showed, as much as their dazzling counter-attacking style that concerned Straeuli. "It is all about passion, desire and hunger," said the Bok mentor. "Samoa really are an example to all of us. You had one team that had spent R350-million (about US$50-million) preparing to be here and the other nothing - yet Samoa showed what you can do with heart." Straeuli, who conveniently forgot to mention that his own team had also spent many millions on preparing for the 2003 RWC, bemoaned his own team's lack of fire and passion in their 46-19 win over Georgia last Friday, with a definite step-up required before facing the Samoans. "We made too many mistakes and lost concentration - something that will be addressed this week," said the Bok mentor, "the team that clashed with the Georgians did not prepare differently from the one that had taken on England."
The Bok coach knows that a performance like the one against the Lelos in Sydney could see his team return home even before the quarter-final stages - a perviously unimaginable scenario. But it was not just the Samoan performance against England that has set the alarm bells ringing in the South African camp, John Boe's team has matched and even outperformed the Boks every step of the way at the RWC thus far. Statistics can be arbitrary, but if there is one way of measuring the current form of the two sides it would be how they have measured up to their Pool C rivals at the 2003 RWC. For starters, the Samoans lasted a lot longer against the powerful England team and even held the lead for most of the match. They also lost by fewer points than the Boks, who never held the lead at any stage of their game against England. Samoa's 35-22 defeat looks a lot better than the Boks' rather weak 25-6 showing. But maybe the most ominous sign comes from within the Samoan camp, who warned the Boks that they could expect a similar spirited performance when the two teams go head to head in Brisbane. "I said we were here to play, not just make up the numbers," Samoan coach John Boe warned after his team's fine showing against England. Samoan captain and No.8 Semo Sititi echoed similar sentiments: "We're definitely not here to make up the numbers. We're here to compete. Samoa are a tough team. We're looking forward to seeing them against South Africa." There is no doubt that the clash with the Samoans has now become SA's most important encounter to date at this year's tournament. Victory will see them advance to a quarter-final showdown with New Zealand in Melbourne on November 8, while defeat will have them packing their bags at least a week or two earlier than theyıd anticipated.