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Rugby World Cup: Schalk Burger is out to sizzle against the All Blacks

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 24/10/2015

Up for the challenge: South Africa’s Schalk Burger is relishing the opportunity of taking on New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final
Up for the challenge: South Africa’s Schalk Burger is relishing the opportunity of taking on New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final

At 7.30am this morning, the 1995 World Cup winning Springboks will congregate at the National Gallery and jog through the empty streets of London.

Francois Pienaar and his team have been on the reunion trail this week ahead of the current crop's semi-final meeting with their final opponents 20 years ago, New Zealand. The run is to recreate the jog the team took through Johannesburg on the morning of that famous day in Ellis Park.

At Twickenham this afternoon, the current generation need to channel the spirit of that great team into a performance of epic proportions if they are to stop the All Blacks from taking a step towards history.

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has labelled this current New Zealand team as "the greatest to play the game", but becoming the first to retain the Webb Ellis Cup would confirm their place in history.

If anyone can stop them, it is South Africa. In 1995, it was a defensive masterclass coupled with the kicking nous of Joel Stransky that proved the difference. Something similar will be required.

Veteran flanker Schalk Burger explained: "The times we've beaten them, and the times we could have beaten them as well, I think the approach is always the same.

"The big thing about them is that their attack is phenomenal. Their back-play execution and their skill-set put you under more pressure than any other team in the world. So the times we have beaten them, it starts with our defence.

"We can't let them get tempo on the ball and must slow down their ball, but we create opportunities against them.

"The way they play, there's a lot of turnovers. We will get opportunities, and the times that we have beaten them we have used all of them. The last few years when we've lost against them, we created a lot of opportunities and probably took half.

"Hopefully we can convert a lot of try-scoring or point-scoring opportunities."

This is the level. Today's clash of teams who have claimed the last two World Cups is compulsory viewing for anyone with an interest in Irish rugby bridging the gap that separates the best and the rest.

Ireland believed that they could live in this company, but yet again fell short. Today's blend of power, pace, skill and sheer physicality will be a reminder of what it takes to win a World Cup.

It is a coming together of the best team in the world and the one side who never seem to mind playing them. Others quake when they see the black jersey loom into view, but the Boks quicken their step and thunder into the challenge.

The All Blacks have 10 members of their 2011 matchday squad still involved today. The Springboks have eight of their match-day 23 from the 2007 win in Paris remaining.

That's a lot of know-how and experience, yet perhaps the most exciting players to take the field today are the new stars who have made this tournament their own.

Julian Savea, the modern-day Lomu, and Nehe Milner-Skudder on the All Black wings are ready to score tries from anywhere. Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Brodie Retallick are a sensational, bruising triumvirate of second-rows who were all born in the 1990s and are set to dominate for the next decade.

The recognisable old stagers remain; Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Burger and Fourie du Preez are veterans of tournaments past with the presence of mind and cool heads required to get their teams out of sticky situations.

That counts for double in knockout situations and last week the All Blacks thrived against France.

Coach Steve Hansen said: "We played really well, we played to a standard we expect and there were a number of reasons why we did that.

"It was life or death. You either win or go home. If we want to play where we are in the final it is the same this week - it's life or death.

"You stand up and be counted or you go home... or even worse you go to play that other game (the third/ fourth placed play-off).

"We don't want to do that and I am assuming South Africa don't either so we are going to have to go to another level."

Watching the All Blacks in Cardiff last weekend, it was hard to imagine they might have another level.

France were as abject as New Zealand were magnificent, but for all the wonderful tries and spectacular off-loads that lit up the Millennium Stadium, it was the speed of their play that caught the eye.

Rucks were dealt with at blink-and-you-miss-it speed, the passing was crisp and accurate, the ball on a plate for Aaron Smith to whip it out to the danger men.

They can mix it up too. If needed, they have the capacity to revert to their maul, while their scrum did damage against a good French pack.

They are the complete team. If South Africa are going to stop them, they will need more than blunt force and ignorance.

The Boks have talent in the backline, but too often the ball never gets past the first receiver. Big men take contact over and over again in the hope they'll bulldoze through, but against the best teams it comes up short.

They lack experience in the No.10, 12 and 13 shirts where the All Blacks have some of the game's grizzled veterans.

Handre Pollard, Damien de Allende and Jesse Kriel have all played well against New Zealand before, but never when the stakes have been this high.

New Zealand: B Smith; N Milner-Skudder, C Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; D Carter, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks; B Retallick, S Whitelock; J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), K Read. Reps: K Mealamu, B Franks, C Faumuina, V Vito, S Cane, T Kerr-Barlow, B Barrett, SB Williams.

South Africa: W Le Roux; JP Pietersen, J Kriel, D de Allende, B Habana; H Pollard, F du Preez (capt); T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, F Malherbe; E Etzebeth, L de Jager; F Louw, S Burger, D Vermeulen.

Referee: J Garces (France)

Belfast Telegraph

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