LONDON — As South Africa prepare for a crucial clash against Scotland, Sport360 reporter Andrew Binner chats to Springbok legend Breyton Paulse about Jean de Villiers’ retirement, JP Pietersen’s hat-trick and the stars of the World Cup so far.
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You have played many matches at Twickenham, what is it like to play in England?
It’s wonderful. It really doesn’t matter which team you play for over there as you are guaranteed a nice reception when you play in England. It is a very vocal crowd and they get right behind their team too. They really enjoy the occasion and there is always such a wonderful vibe at Twickenham. For me the stand-out feature of this World Cup so far has been the way that the English crowd has got behind the minnows and that is lovely for the game. My advice to any player at the World Cup, regardless of how well their team is playing, is to soak up every bit of this magic atmosphere and just live in the moment as it is such a wonderful privileged to play at these events.
What effect will the sudden retirement of Jean de Villiers’ have on the team?
It is obviously a massive set back but unfortunately World Cups are unpredictable. Jean’s early retirement will leave a huge hole in the team mostly because of his leadership qualities. He is a very calm guy, a great ambassador and a lot of the young players look up to him. He had the respect of all his teammates and the team will miss his composure in the heat of battle.
— South African Rugby (@Springboks) September 29, 2015
On the flip side it is a great opportunity to rekindle the centre combination of Damian De Allende and Jesse Kriel. I thought they were very exciting during the Rugby Championship and this is now their chance to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage of all. They are still fairly unknown in the world of international Test rugby and haven’t even got twenty Test between them, but it is a wonderful opportunity for those two to show selectors that they can be South Africa’s centre pairing for the next ten years.
If South Africa fail to make the semi-finals, will Heneke Meyer be out of a job?
I don’t think so. The last few weeks have been tough for the Springboks after a poor first result and then Jean’s injury but I don’t think Meyer will lose his job if SA fail to make the World Cup final. Continuity is what the Boks need now and after four years in the job he should be given a chance to stay and prove himself. The time for reflection on the coach’s performance comes after the World Cup and factors like South Africa’s awful injury record can be taken into account. As for now, Heyneke and the boys need their country’s support and we must leave those big decisions to the powers that be.
As a former winger you must be pleased to see JP Pietersen firing again?
For me it was a relief to watch those guys play well again. This whole year has been so negative for South Africa so it was very important for experienced players like these guys to stand up against Samoa. In some ways the shock result against Japan was what some of the guys needed to refocus them. No one goes out to play badly or lose but it is great that the guys have responded in the way they have.
For me JP’s performance was especially pleasing as he has been dogged by inconsistency this season. The Sharks played him at 13 and he didn’t play well after his stint in Japan where the standard of rugby is not as intense. But after the Samoa game it almost looks as if he is peaking at the right time.
Which other players have stood out for you so far?
Number one, Dan Biggar. He has just been fantastic for Wales. He has really stood up and his performance in the England demonstrated just how badly he wanted to win that match. I am also really enjoying Nehe Milner-Skudder from New Zealand. I think he has got a great future ahead of him and he has really taken his opportunity in the All Blacks team. From Ireland I think that Keith Earls is right back in form and he has combined with Simon Zebo really well to form a really dangerous counter-attacking threat.
What sort of threat do Scotland pose South Africa on Saturday?
I’m really enjoying the way the Scots play. Vern Cotter has that steely feel about him and is a very strict coach. He will get his team fired up for the South Africa game. I like the way that Scotland now prefer to keep the ball in hand and bring key backs like Mark Bennett and Matt Scott into the game. Stuart Hogg the full-back is also a class act. He reminds me a lot of myself in that he is a smaller guy who is not afraid to run at people and creates havoc for the opposition.
This game is going to be won up front and if the Scots are to be successful, they will have to bring a lot of physicality to the game. If the Boks play like they did against Samoa – where their forwards dominated every collision – I think the Scots are going to have a long afternoon ahead of them. But if they can match us on the gainline like Japan did a couple of weeks ago, they will most certainly have a chance of winning.
From the Springboks point-of-view there has been a lot of emotion around the squad for the past couple of weeks. When the guys use this emotion and put it into their performances, they tend to produce their best rugby – maybe that’s just a South African thing but it always seems to happen. For me, when their backs are against the wall, they tend to rise to the occasion. Heyneke and the Boks need to go back to their strengths of bullying the opposition and using the maul as that is when the team is most comfortable. Obviously that is not the most exciting way to play and not everyone will be pleased with it but that is the South African way and that is what they know best.
How far do you think South Africa will go in the World Cup?
Every game is almost like a final for South Africa now. The pressure is huge and obviously the weight of expectation is even bigger back home. There are a lot of critics out there but also a lot of true who just want the team to succeed. At the moment I think the All Blacks are the favourities to win and I think that Ireland also look very strong. For me South Africa just have to focus on getting to the quarter-finals. Once teams are in the knock-out stages then anything can happen. I wouldn’t focus too much further than that but if our boys are strong enough mentally then they can go all the way.
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France combined flair and force in a 41-18 World Cup victory over Canada in Milton Keynes.
The game was little more than three minutes old when Michalak darted down the blindside, evaded two would-be tacklers and then passed out of the back of his hand. Fofana was on his shoulder to score.
Thierry Dusautoir was all-action, as usual, and made a crucial tackle before contributing to a ruck which saw France turn over the ball five metres from their own line.
Canada continued to apply pressure, but France survived a charged-down kick and Nathan Hirayama’s drop-goal attempt fell short before another moment of inspiration from Michalak.
The fly-half scythed through the Canucks defence and floated a chip over. All Fofana had to do was claim the bouncing ball, but it bounced through his hands.
A more agricultural route resulted in success after first Grosso and then Sebastien Tillous-Borde were held short. Next Guirado wriggled over from close range.
Canada immediately responded as scrum-half Phil Mack sniped round a ruck to be held short, sucking in French defenders.
The ball was swiftly spread wide to the left and Van der Merwe completed the overlap. Hirayama converted.
Canada continued to show ambition, running a kickable penalty and punching holes in the France defence.
And they were rewarded when Carpenter barged over from close range after a ruck.
France also spurned a shot at goal to kick for the corner and next drove forwards, with Slimani peeling round the maul to score. Michalak again converted.
Canada lost captain Tyler Ardron and full-back Harry Jones to injury in the first half, but kept themselves in contention early in the second as Hirayama kicked two penalties, reducing the deficit to six points. But that was as good as it got.
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) October 1, 2015
Les Bleus had already been looking for a fourth try and with it the bonus point, but Michalak opted to kick to restore the advantage to nine points.
France, camped in Canadian territory, showed further brute force as Pape barged over and Michalak converted.
Canada had Nanyak Dala sin-binned with eight minutes remaining and Grosso touched down in the corner on the overlap.
Morgan Parra converted to complete a resounding win.
Canada play Romania in Leicester next Tuesday, seeking to sign off from the tournament with a win.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster said "there is no hiding away from where the responsibility and the accountability lies" as his team get ready for their must-win 2015 Rugby World Cup match against Australia on Saturday (3rd October).