Good discipline will be the key for the Springboks when they face Ireland at Stade de France on Saturday (9pm kick-off) for a chance to go top of Pool B at the World Cup.
So far in the tournament, the South Africans have only conceded 14 penalties in their matches against Scotland and Romania.
They’ve also not conceded any tries, with only three points scored against them by the Scots.
If the Boks stay in line against the Irish with their discipline, especially on defence, it will go a long way in keeping the accurate kicking boot of opposition flyhalf Johnny Sexton at bay.
It will limit the opportunities Ireland will have to kick for touch and set their destructive rolling maul in motion in looking for tries.
According to Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber, keeping the penalty count down will be a main priority, as well as avoiding any cards that will see them go a player down.
“When two top teams play each other, discipline is important – not just keeping 15 players on the field, but in general,” Nienaber said.
“Penalty counts … If you give a team like Ireland ill-discipline, they can either convert that into points or get territory, and put you under pressure in your own 22, so discipline in general will be important.”
Nienaber still had to defuse the situation around selecting seven forwards on the bench, but he took the question in his stride, saying it would be a sad day if innovation in rugby were stopped.
There was again criticism about Nienaber’s selection of only one backline replacement – as was the case in the duel with New Zealand at Twickenham last month – but he and SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus have also been praised from other corners for thinking outside the box.
“I think if there is innovation in any sport, it gets a reaction, positive or negative. This is obviously unique. It is the first time a team has named seven forwards and one back on the bench, so that is why I would say it’s innovation. That will get a reaction,” Nienaber said.
“In terms of player safety, I don’t get that. I know nothing stops anyone else from doing it, and it will be a sad day I think if you’re innovative in the laws of the game, and then they would change that.
“It’s not against the laws of the game, and I don’t think it has any bearing on player safety at all.”
While the recipe of seven forwards and one back worked against the All Blacks, Ireland are a different kettle of fish, and they will have studied that match to see where they can penetrate the world champions.
South Africa also know that the Irish will do anything within their power to counter the forward-loaded replacements bench.
And as much as the Boks will want to say they only put pressure on themselves within the group, there will be massive pressure on all the players tomorrow coming from different angles of the Stade de France.
The equation is simple, though – if the Boks win, they will be in a prime position to progress with one game left, against Tonga next Sunday.
If they win with a bonus point, it will be even better for their chances.
The first prize will be to get the four log points for the victory, but should they lose, they need at least a point or two from the clash.
“This is an important game, and we all know when we came into this pool, everyone knew this would be a tough pool to get out of. From the first game against Scotland, there was massive pressure, and then Romania and now Ireland, and then there is still Tonga,” Nienaber said.
“A win for us or them will put you in a good position to get out of the pool, and that is why there is pressure.
“But that was there when the World Cup started. So, it doesn’t actually change for us personally because the pressure was set, we said we are playing knockout rugby from game one. Nothing has changed from game one.”