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Stephen Nell is a rugby writer based in Cape Town and works primarily for the Die Burger newspaper. He has been contributing to ESPNscrum since 2005.
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Boks have recipe for success
Stephen Nell
September 1, 2011
South Africa coach Peter De Villiers reflects on defeat to Australia, South Africa v Australia, Tri-Nations, Kings Park Stadium, Durban, South Africa, August 13, 2011
Can Peter de Villiers silence his critics by steering the Springboks to back-to-back World Cup title? © Getty Images
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South Africa have seldom been as transparent about their game plan as they head into the 2011 Rugby World Cup hoping to become the first team to successfully defend the Webb Ellis trophy.

They will probably defend and kick - in the latter case for the corners and if their pressure tells, for posts. As much as the game's purists might object, it is the recipe that history tells us will yield success at the World Cup.

If the home leg off the Tri-Nations made anything clear to Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, it's that Butch James will not offer him the same value as Morné Steyn in pressure games.

Steyn's flawless kicking performance in Port Elizabeth - he landed all five his penalty attempts as well as a drop goal in an 18-5 victory over an admittedly weakened All Black side - demonstrated the ice in his veins and that he will be crucial in the defence of the title.

There were only a few surprises in the squad that De Villiers and his co-selectors picked and they were all mild ones.

Francois Louw was selected ahead of Ashley Johnson to give the Boks a back-up to openside star Heinrich Brüssow, Ulster lock Johann Muller got in ahead of Gerhard Mostert as the Boks need a lineout specialist should Victor Matfield go down, and wing Odwa Ndungane's experience won him selection ahead of Sharks team-mate Lwazi Mvovo.

Not one of the three were going to be first-choice players in any event, so it's much of a muchness really. There were no bolters in the squad and De Villiers had always been transparent about the fact that John Smit would be his captain.

So for once the Bok coach is not courting controversy! There also hasn't been any public outcry over the squad. The biggest point of debate is about the sell-by dates of a few players and whether De Villiers has done enough to freshen up the Springboks after the core of their full-strength side possibly peaked in 2009.

And then there is the not so small matter of whether De Villiers will pick John Smit or the outstanding Bismarck du Plessis in his side. Du Plessis starred in the recent victory over the All Blacks, while Smit toured quite well on South Africa's Australasian tour in the Tri-Nations.

De Villiers will therefore be weighing up leadership versus sheer playing ability. In confirming Smit as his captain, the coach probably gave an indication of his thinking. Du Plessis nevertheless would have given the coach food for thought with his most recent performance.

For South Africa the key group match is their first one against Wales on September 11. The Welsh have not beaten the Springboks since the one and only time at the Millennium Stadium in 1999 and that is when race politics regarding team selection overshadowed South Africa's preparations.

There will probably be bravado from the Welsh camp ahead of this latest match-up, but they appear destined for another defeat.

The other significant challenge is the game against Samoa, but South Africa traditionally fare well against the Pacific Island teams. However, those games sometimes come packaged with an injury toll due to robust tackling by the islanders.

As far as the country's expectations are concerned, nobody is expecting anything less than a semi-final. If everything goes according to plan for the Springboks and All Blacks, they will meet at that stage.

 
"There will probably be bravado from the Welsh camp ahead of this latest match-up, but they appear destined for another defeat."
 

Of course, luck plays a huge part. It remains to be seen whether South Africa will have the beating of a New Zealand side bolstered by the presence of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Brad Thorn and Kieran Read - to name just some of the men who missed out on the clash in Port Elizabeth.

However, New Zealand are possibly over-dependent on Carter, in particular, and the recent match between rugby's greatest rivals demonstrated the shortcomings of the Kiwis' back-up No.10 Colin Slade.

South Africa therefore enter the tournament with pretty much a settled side. They will be strong up front and can rely on Steyn's boot.

Of course, there is another Steyn - Francois - capable of something special. It usually comes packaged in the form of a long-distance penalty as the All Blacks found out when three of those helped to condemn them to a 29-32 defeat against the Boks in Hamilton back in 2009. He could be a key player alongside his namesake, as will Brüssow, hooker Bismarck du Plessis, lock Victor Matield, flank Schalk Burger, scrum-half Fourie du Preez and outside centre Jaque Fourie.

Brüssow and Du Plessis both starred alongside Morné Steyn in the recent victory over the All Blacks, while Burger may well be used as a blindside flank in the absence of the injured Juan Smith.

South Africa have suffered serious injury blows by losing Smith and lock Andries Bekker. The latter was the heir apparent to Matfield and is a phenomenal athlete who would have offered a massive impact off the bench, while Smith has the experience of 69 Test caps.

In a recent interview with Smith, he also expressed his doubts about New Zealand being World Cup favourites. That mantle, he said, should rather be worn by South Africa or Australia.

So there you have it - the Springboks will have high expectations going into the tournament and may well end up doing their country proud once more. There is no shortage of talent in the squad and they know the recipe for knock-out rugby.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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