As South Africans come to terms with the weekend’s quarter-final loss to Australia, Francois Pienaar, captain of the team that famously won the tournament in 1995, offers a pragmatic view on a match that he feels the Springboks could certainly have won.
“The team, management and South African supporters will all feel that the Boks were unlucky, with the indifferent refereeing from Mr. Lawrence,” Pienaar believes. “(But) you need a bit of luck to win the World Cup, the harder you train the more fortuitous opportunities will present themselves.
“We had opportunities to put the game beyond doubt – we needed to take those opportunities. Wales could have beaten South Africa in the opening match, and they did not take their opportunities.”
Unlike South Africa, however, the Welsh still have a chance to win the World Cup, but Pienaar likes the look of the team that knocked out his countrymen.
“Australia can go all the way,” Pienaar concedes. “They are a competent team, and they know how to eke out a win.”
The World Cup-winning captain wouldn’t be drawn on officiating in the tournament, other than suggesting that “the referees are inconsistent”, but did express admiration for the man who disrupted South Africa at the breakdown.
“David Pocock is a quality player, and played as close to the rules as any referee will allow him, the sign of a class open side,” says Pienaar. “You play to how the referee applies the law, push the limits to your peril or fortune.”
And that’s exactly what Pocock will need to do this weekend against New Zealand, who’re in a position Pienaar can identify with – playing a World Cup in front of a passionate but expectant home crowd, and dealing with the associated pressure. “You either love pressure or you don’t,” Pienaar explains. “The teams that do are hard to beat, and if New Zealand make it to the final, four-million-plus people should carry them home.” And as for the loss of Dan Carter? “They have a quality squad with lots of game breakers.”
It sets the southern hemisphere duel up for a great game, given that so much is at stake; waiting for the winners will be a team from the Six Nations, and Pienaar concluded with a nod in the direction he feels the semifinal might go. “The French have not produced any significant performance,” Pienaar smiled. “They are due one!”
Francois Pienaar was speaking on behalf of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation (www.laureus.com)