France and Springboks seek ‘dark place’ to keep World Cup dream alive

The most terrifying warning about what to expect on Sunday night at the Stade de France came from Steven Kitshoff. He frowned and said, “You’re going to have to go to a dark place quite early in this game.”

The extent to which his Springbok compatriots and their French rivals might have to go in order to reach a Rugby World Cup semi-final were spelled out even more clearly as the flame-haired South African prop continued. “We’ll see if both teams are willing to go to that dark spot,” he said menacingly, “because of where the physicality is going to be, it might get to a point where some players haven’t been.”

The most intensely physical game of the tournament thus far was South Africa’s 13-8 loss to Ireland during the group round. In a classic demonstration of true Test match rugby, the No. 1 and No. 2 rated sides knocked seven bells out of one another, but Sunday’s quarterfinal might well surpass it.

The Springboks’ ferocity and authorized violence on the rugby field have long been known as their calling characteristic. The opposition used to try to outsmart them or get around them rather than through them, but even though this occasionally succeeded, the South Africans frequently won. For instances, consider the World Cups in 1995, 2007, and 2019.

The top teams now appear to have understood that you must physically compete with them or even intimidate them, as Ireland did so masterfully last month.

Kitshoff said, “Teams always speak about the physicality of the game when they face the Springboks. “I think the hardest games I’ve played this year were against Ireland and Tonga. We always strive to make it as physically intense as we can, but we are aware that France will bring a lot of physicality.

The colorful, erratic France team fueled by Latin flair that was practically an anti-Springbok cliché is vanished. The cliché that “you never know which France will turn up” is no longer true. Of course, they are still capable of mesmerizing brilliance through players like Damian Penaud, Matthieu Jalibert, or returning captain Antoine Dupont, whose recovery from a fractured cheekbone has lifted the entire nation.

As demonstrated last November in Marseille, where they fought their way to a brutal 30-26 victory over Jacques Nienaber’s team in a grueling Test match that saw both Dupont and Pieter-Steph du Toit receive red cards, they are a well-oiled, ruthless machine under Fabien Galthie. They are more than willing to go toe to toe with the South Africans up front.

France flanker Charles Ollivon described that match this week as “violent” in his statement. “We anticipate a similar kind of match. The South African design is well-known. They are well-equipped to physically harm their adversaries. They’ll remain faithful to who they are. We’ll be all set.

After being broken by a high shot from Namibian captain Johan Deysel during their pool game, Dupont’s cheekbone has become the subject of heated debate and discussion across the country. Even though his deputy Maxime Lucu admirably filled in for him for the final stretch of the pool stage, his quickfire, three-week recovery allowed him to be named in the starting lineup for this quarterfinal gives Les Bleus and the 80,000 fans who will swarm the Stade de France a spark.

Fly half Jalibert said, “Having him back gives us a lot of confidence. “He instills terror in the opponents, and as a result, they search for ways to neutralize him, which allows us more room. Dupont will be performing to the best of his ability even while wearing a scrum hat, which his surgeon has advised him to do for further protection.

Even if playing South Africa while still recovering from a facial injury is perhaps not ideal, the scrum half seems up for the task and sounds willing to enter the ‘dark zone’ that Kitshoff claims will be necessary.

There is always anguish in matches this intense, whether it be physical or mental, according to Dupont. “In order to get what we desire, we must be willing to endure pain. We set really lofty objectives. We are aware of what needs to be done and how difficult it will be from beginning to end. We won’t be able to travel where we want to if we aren’t prepared for it.

This won’t be a battle for the faint of heart, as it promises to be filled with misery, pain, brutality, and dark places, but the rewards for those who can dig the deepest in Paris will be enormous.

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