MANY years ago, I argued with Rassie Erasmus about rugby, two or three times, and subsequently accepted with reasonable humility that he knows and thinks much more about the subject than I do.
So when I heard that his co-brain and chief accomplice, Jacques Nienaber, had selected seven forwards for the Springbok reserve bench for a massive Test against Ireland, I resigned myself to the fact that the two of them had contemplated the situation for much longer and employed much better computer programs to assist them.
Everyone nowadays has clever rugby computer programs, but few to none know what to ask the darn things as well as Nienaber and Erasmus.
It's probably why they rarely hesitate to choose the very players who baffle the algorithms.
But first, I must apologise for my prediction last week that Fiji would not be able to outsmart the Wallabies. The Squidge was rather quick off the mark with this one. If you enjoy rugby but haven't followed this Welshman yet, he's a must, and here's his habitually excellent analysis. This man also asks the right questions of the machine:
Should Australia beat Wales, the Fijians might not even make it to the quarterfinals. So, for the next 72 hours I will be cursing Eddie Jones more than I'd like to admit.
There's a lot of anticipation about the rise of so-called second-tier rugby nations, but if they don't get regular playing opportunities against the official big dogs we'll keep saying “aitsa" every four years, and everyone will ritually wish they had more chances to play against the real deal.
In fact, Fiji are long past being included in that category. But after Uruguay's excellent performance against Les Bleus, many of us hoped the South Americans could give Italy a run for their money. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Italy are something of a zombie team these days after people predicted their unstoppable rise back in the 1990s. Nearly 30 years later, things have more or less remained the same. They stumble along unsatisfactorily, forever at the same level.
Because Italy regularly play against rugby powerhouses, they gain much more experience than countries denied these opportunities. And they usually beat the underdeveloped nations, although often unconvincingly.
But when they play against a top-tier team, they mostly look rather sad. Yes, I know: Ange Capuozzo. Sergio Parisse. Giovanni Ilmiocazzo…
I made that last one up, but the fact that almost no one noticed speaks to the Azzurri's disappointing level in the world of rugby.
Yet, I have a very cool friend from Milan, a former front-row forward from a family deeply rooted in both rugby and militant socialism, who probably knows as much about the sport as anyone else.
Except, of course, Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus.
Do I sound a bit too much like a supporter? Yes.
But how many wayward Springbok teams have we not supported in the past? Not too long ago, I was convinced rugby in South Africa was on the way out due to rotten structures, small-town politics and entrenched rugby thinking.
I deliberately didn't mention quotas because our rugby would have been long gone without them. With a long detour through the ANfuckingC, your bloody rugby accidentally improved a bit.
Argentina against Samoa tonight?
Wales against Australia on Sunday?
I don't even give a damn and suspect most of you feel the same.
Tomorrow night is the biggest showdown in the pool phase of the World Cup, and it's our guys, the champions, against the official number one team in the world.
Ireland have won 15 Tests in a row, including one in Dublin against the Boks, two away games against the All Blacks, and a Grand Slam in the Six Nations. It's a mouthful, and yet I'm optimistic that tomorrow night we'll go to bed with a smile on our faces.
But just between us girls, the result will initially change little for the Springboks. The winners take on New Zealand in the quarterfinals, and the losers take on France.
There are many Bok supporters who were hoping for France in the quarterfinals and they know at least as much about the sport as I do (that barometer remains reliable; you just have to keep it well-tuned, otherwise you become one of those loudmouth jerks who ruins the braai), but the French forwards can cause more trouble than the 2023-model All Blacks.
This is even more true for Ireland.
They have props, and where the Boks had to bid farewell to the often-decisive Malcolm Marx, the Irish get Dan Sheehan back as a hooker this weekend. He's brilliant, one of a scant 10 or so overseas forwards who would make a Springbok squad.
And every time I suddenly think and wake up: Oh, damn! Dan Sheehan! I remember that Nienaber and Erasmus have been preoccupied with it for much longer.
When people sometimes say, “South Africa have the two best packs of forwards in the world", I always wonder how often they actually watch rugby.
Ireland have Porter, Sheehan, Furlong, Beirne, Ryan, Van der Flier, O'Mahony and Doris. They should at least be part of that conversation.
That's why Nienaber has selected seven forward reserves.
Is it daring? Yes, but why not?
With defeat not really being a life-or-death situation, isn't it the best time to draw a line in the sand with your toe?
If the Boks can seal a victory tomorrow with the relative ease of France against the All Blacks, it will boost their confidence.
We can expect to see two or three rehearsed moves that neither we nor Ireland have seen before.
There are 15 high-octane forwards in the Bok squad for tomorrow, and the goal is clear: Ireland play a well-thought-out version of rugby where they don't easily give up possession. Bok bruisers on the bench are the intended counter.
South Africa play to apply pressure. The fanciest teams on Earth hate pressure; ferocious forwards ensure that, which is why I've bet a few bucks on the Boks. And if I lose, I'll start worrying about the quarterfinals again and bet on them again.
When people ask me what I think of the Irish, I say many of them are a lot like me. Friendly and hospitable, with an extremely unpredictable mood; probably too fond of parties and whisky and beer and wild fiddling in their music.
Because I like many of them very much, but I hope the Boks will absolutely dominate their rugby team tomorrow, our Friday playlist this week is Irish in theme.
Cú Chulainn is probably my favourite mythological figure, with his epic thirst and useful disposition, and who better to sing about him than Shane MacGowan and his crew?
My Bloody Valentine are Dubliners with the amazing gift of making music that stirs you up when you turn up the volume and helps you chill when you play it softly:
And alas, old Van, a sour-ass Ulsterman who recorded this masterpiece that I'm going to blast through the neighbourhood around 11 o'clock tomorrow night if the Boks win:
♦ VWB ♦
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