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By Johan Ackermann

Coach and former player


Johan Ackermann: Boks should have picked strongest team against Tonga

The tricky art of freshening up but staying match sharp.


The final Rugby World Cup pool match against Tonga was always going to be a difficult one for the Springboks — not because of the actual opposition, but because the coaches would have debated at length who to pick and who to leave out, and for good reason.

The thing is that after this match on Sunday, the Boks won’t play again for two weeks, as they have a bye next weekend, with their next game a probable quarter-final against the All Blacks or France.

So, as sometimes happens in sport, the big question would have been: who gets to rest this week, to be fresh for the anticipated quarter-final, and who plays. The only problem in this instance being, the Boks don’t have a match next weekend so everyone will be off anyway, and possibly fresh.

Three weeks off

So, for some players who haven’t been selected for the Tonga match, they will go into the quarter-final with no match-time behind them in three weeks, since the Ireland game. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s always tricky. But, for me, because the Boks have a bye next week, I would have gone with my best and strongest team, who would probably play in the quarter-final, for the Tonga match.

Guys like Damian Willemse, Kurt-Lee Arendse and some others are in nice form and I think it would have been best to keep them involved and for them to build on the momentum they’ve got going.

Also, a guy like RG Snyman could have done with more game time because he’s been out for so long.

How many guys will now go into the quarter-final a bit rusty maybe, with just some training days behind them? That’s my concern.

Damian Willemse
Damian Willemse in action against Ireland at Stade de France last weekend. Picture: Gaspafotos/MB Media/Getty Images

Over niggles

I can understand resting key men like a Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Pieter-Steph du Toit … they’re almost irreplaceable at this stage and aren’t worth risking this weekend. But, for the sake of momentum, continuity and keeping bodies at a certain intensity level, I would have liked to see more “first-choice” men playing this match against Tonga.

But like I said, it’s always tricky. The good thing is they will at least be fresh and hopefully over any niggles by the time the quarter-finals happen.

It’s a great Bok team though, but when isn’t it nowadays? It’s a good mix of youth and experience and of course we’re all keen to see how Handre Pollard goes.

And, to be fair, it’s also great that all the squad members are being used again; it’s important for unity in the team and a feeling of belonging and contributing.

Too strong for Tonga

Regarding the match, the Boks mustn’t underestimate Tonga. They’ve got some great players with X-factor and can be brilliant, but they’re very much an individualistic team. They play like a Barbarians side and if the game gets loose they can punish you, but I don’t see this happening.

As long as the Boks stick to their structure and stay patient, over 80 minutes, their superior conditioning, set-piece play and intensity will be too much for Tonga. The Boks are a world-class team and they’ll be too strong for their opponents.

The only questions now being: how early in the contest will the Boks get on top and Tonga’s resistance crumble, and how big could the score become?