Springbok centre Damian de Allende says their backline still needs to improve on their execution as they prepare for the World Cup quarter-finals.
The Boks look likely to face Japan in the play-offs next week, though that will only be confirmed later today.
The Springboks will play the winner of Pool A. Ireland yesterday went top of their group after beating Samoa with a bonus point, but who joins them in the quarter-finals and in what position will be dependent on Typhoon Hagibis.
Japan are scheduled to meet Scotland in a winner-takes-all decider in Yokohama today (kick-off 12.45pm SA time). If the game goes ahead and Scotland win, they would go through in second place (and meet New Zealand) while South Africa would play Ireland.
If Japan win – or the match is cancelled – Japan would top the pool and therefore meet the Springboks in the quarters (although the cancellation would place both Ireland and Japan on 16 points and Ireland have a superior points difference, Japan would be on top as their head-to-head result over Ireland takes precedence).
Regardless of who they’ll be facing in their last-eight battle next Sunday, De Allende would like to see sharper execution overall.
“I would say our execution (needs to improve); whether that is attacking or defending, or receiving a contestable kick off nine or 10. If that ball does get loose, whether we can kill that ball quickly enough,” he said.
“And I think that is where New Zealand caught us off-guard. We made two errors in three minutes and they scored 14 points off it (the All Blacks went on to win 23-13 in Yokohama).
“I wouldn’t say we are there yet, but we have been working on it, and I feel as the pool stages have progressed, we improved a hell of a lot.
“Since those two tries against New Zealand, we have only conceded one, against Canada.”
Yesterday, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk said the Boks wouldn’t change their plan going into the play-offs and that a strong contestable kicking game would be key.
That makes proper execution even more important, especially when it comes to their box-kick approach – a tactic that has often put the Bok backs under pressure in 2019 rather than creating opportunities to chase, as a result of poor execution and predictability.
De Allende added that the Bok attacking kicking game has also been a focus. “In training, the whole backline has been working on our attacking kicking game as well. We’ve put more time and effort into that, and I felt last week against Canada, we got that right in the first half.
“I know the scoreboard looked like we dominated them physically (the Boks won 66-7) but decisions were made on attack – whether to hold the ball or put the ball in behind them. It was very good, and that put them under a lot of pressure in the first 20 minutes.”
The Boks went ahead with their training in wet conditions in Kobe yesterday, something De Allende believes will stand them in good stead going forward.
He said handling the ball in the rain compared to humid conditions was quite different. “It just feels, when you play in the rain, you are almost a little bit slower – so you have a lot less time on the ball. It also feels like the defence comes a little bit harder, because you have less time on the ball. It’s good that we got a chance to actually train in the rain and see how we handle ourselves in the conditions.”