September 20, 2019 / 4:29 AM / 2 months ago

Breakdown battle could be decisive in All Blacks clash - Kolisi

YOKOHAMA (Reuters) - South Africa captain Siya Kolisi has said speed to the breakdown will be a major deciding factor in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup opener against New Zealand in Yokohama, where he will come up against a pair of familiar foes.

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup - South Africa Captain's Run - International Yokohama Stadium, Yokohama City, Japan, September 20, 2019. South Africa's Tendai Mtawarira, Captain Siya Kolisi and Cobus Reinach walk. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has picked two ‘fetchers’ in Ardie Savea and Sam Cane for the Pool B clash, pointing to the tackle area as a key battleground in a game expected to be a tight forward tussle.

Kolisi will shoulder much of the responsibility of countering their threat and said the game would be all about getting to the ball on the ground first.

“I know how good they are, I have played against them many times. Sam and I go all the way back to the Under-20s and we have probably learnt a few things about each other down the years,” Kolisi told reporters in Yokohama on Friday.

South Africa have been talking all week about their hope that referees will show fairness to all sides in key moments during the World Cup, and Frenchman Jerome Garces will have his hands full at the breakdown on Saturday.

But Kolisi said South Africa must be masters of their own destiny.

“You can’t wait for the ref to help you at the breakdown,” he said. “Ardie has the most steals in Super Rugby, we just have to get in there quickly. It’s a big focus in the game.”

The Boks skipper is happy to meet New Zealand in their opening match, rather than having the biggest fixture in their pool hanging over them later.

“It is a good start to World Cup, it is good to play them first up and I’m sure they will also think the same thing.

“It is better than waiting and waiting for the game, that way it might get into some of the guys’ heads.”

The Springboks will have an image of Chester Williams embedded in their jersey numbers — the nation’s iconic 1995 World Cup winner who inspired a new generation of black players to take up rugby.

Williams died on Sept. 6 at the age of 49 after a heart attack.

“He was from an era that opened up a lot of doors for us and we appreciate everything. Having him on our backs shows our appreciation for everything he has done,” Kolisi said.

He added there would be no need for him to say much in the changeroom before the match.

“I don’t need to speak. We have all worked so hard this moment, since we were young. Some of us never dreamt of being at the World Cup,” he said.

“The guys know the opposition we are playing. All the players know what they need to do.”

Editing by Ian Ransom

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