Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Rugby World Cup: Drop kicks are a not so secret weapon

Morne Steyn gets in some practice ahead of the Springboks' showdown with Australia. Photo / Getty Images
Morne Steyn gets in some practice ahead of the Springboks' showdown with Australia. Photo / Getty Images

Drop goals are all the rage when the Rugby World Cup reaches the cut-throat stage and the Wallabies and Springboks are primed for a shootout in their quarter-final.

South Africa have lost tough lock Bakkies Botha for the rest of the tournament but kept up the physical threat by including wild man inside back Butch James on the bench when they named their side yesterday.

While James' swinging arms may make a late entrance, swinging boots will dominate from the outset.

Australian coach Robbie Deans asked his pivotal backs to start banging away with droppies during the Super 15 in preparation for a tilt at the Webb Ellis. Quade Cooper responded by nailing four during Queensland's victorious campaign.

A tournament-ending shoulder injury to Francois Steyn means South Africa have lost the longest of drop kickers which removes one serious threat to Australia.

The swirling Wellington wind will make landing drop goals more difficult, but it would be a major surprise if there are not a number of attempts on Sunday night including early on.

South Africa are not shy about World Cup drop goals but recent form makes it almost a secret weapon. Maybe they have been saving the drop for the World Cup, having landed just one in the past two years.

Wing Bryan Habana did nothing to dampen the drop goal mood.

"If there is an opportunity it would be stupid not to take it in the knockout stage," he said.

"If you are up against a good defensive team like Australia then you go for it. I'm sure Morne has got a licence within our structure to make that decision.

"We are not just going out there to score drop goals. We want to play rugby worth playing on Sunday.

"Whether that means kicking drop goals or scoring tries we want to make a very positive impact. The option is there and it is down to the decision-making of the nine and 10."

If Berrick Barnes is named at inside centre for Australia today, that will increase their drop goal armoury.

South Africa were hit by another injury to veteran lock Botha, who will return home immediately after suffering another Achilles tendon injury in a lineout drill gone wrong.

Botha spoke to his teammates urging them to do South Africa proud, although giant No 8 Pierre Spies said later that it would be wrong to overplay the emotional impact of Botha's words.

South Africa have stuck with the tried and trusted including captain John Smit again holding off the challenge continually mounted by the powerful hooker Bismarck du Plessis. Coach Peter de Villiers has stuck by Smit through thick and thin, and despite the public pressure for du Plessis he was unlikely to make a significant change at this stage.

In a mild surprise, CJ van der Linde wins the reserve prop position over the mobile "Beast" Mtawarira, which further suggests the Springboks want the game to be tight.

The three backs under injury doubt, JP Pietersen, Habana and reserve utility Francois Hougaard, were all passed fit to play. South Africa use a five-forwards bench at times and de Villiers suggested the decision to include three backs this time was due in part to the injuries received by the top wings against Samoa.

Habana said the Springboks had faced an added injury hurdle on this campaign compared to the World Cup winning side of 2007.

"Unlike 2007, a few injuries have hindered our progress - guys like Bakkies, Victor and Frans - it's been a bit difficult but we are all proud of our progress and definitely want to go a lot further," he said.

"Australia are a fantastic rugby- playing nation and have won five of the last six against us. They've had the edge over us but in a knockout stage that means absolutely nothing. I don't think history will count for much."

- NZ Herald

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