By Nick Mulvenney
TOKYO (Reuters) – Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards is just as concerned about the ‘blowtorch’ pace of Cheslin Kolbe and the South Africa outside backs as the big men of the Springboks pack ahead of Sunday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final.
Since losing the quarter-final of the 2015 World Cup to South Africa, Wales have won four straight matches against the Springboks, but Edwards said the Welsh would have to be at their very best to make it five in Yokohama on Sunday.
“We’ve had a decent record against them recently but it’s just like it was against France, nearly all the games have been one-score games,” he told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday.
“We’re going to have to muscle up on the advantage line, they’ve obviously got huge men.
“Out wide, they’ve got incredible speed. If there were a 4×100m relay race of all the teams involved in the World Cup they’d be fastest.
“They’re going to be well-organised and they’re going to have a strong defence and strong kicking game. They’ve got blow torch speed on the edges.”
The former rugby league international halfback said he had high regard for South Africa scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and flyhalf Handre Pollard, but it was Kolbe and his dancing feet who stood out for him.
Edwards said that the 25-year-old winger, who has scored two tries in three matches in the tournament so far, reminded him of England’s 2003 World Cup winning winger and fellow rugby league convert Jason Robinson.
“If you want to go and watch a game of rugby, you want to go and watch Cheslin Kolbe,” he said.
“We have to keep our eye on his, he’s one of the most dynamic players I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to play with Jason Robinson.
“I was his captain at Wigan when he first came in the Wigan team. Kolbe’s a similar player to Jason, incredibly explosive, short and defies the fact that you have to be big to play the game of rugby.”
After conceding 19 points in the quarter-final victory over France in Oita last Sunday, Edwards said he would be looking to restrict the damage to closer to the 13 to 15 points mark in Yokohama.
Overall, though, he thought the match would be decided on how well each side stopped the other from getting over the gainline.
“It’s going to be a battle royal on that advantage line,” he said.
“Because a lot of people think that in defence, you don’t want to miss any tackles but it’s not one of the key performance indicators of whether you are going to win a game.
“One of the biggest ones is gainline. Did you give up the gainline, did you not give up the gainline? That is the biggest indicator of whether you win or lose the game in defence.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Alex Richardson)