AUCKLAND, 30 Sept. - How old is too old? Despite South Africa's impressive figures from their three matches so far (153 points scored, 19 against, 20 tries), 18 is the one that seems to be exercising the sceptics.
That's the number of Springboks at this tournament who played in the 2007 tournament, and there are mutterings from some quarters that the South African tight five might be - whisper this - over the hill.
Victor Matfield (34), John Smit (33), Danie Rossouw (33) and Bakkies Botha (32) are most probably appearing at their final Rugby World Cup. Probably.
Don't mention that suggestion to England's Simon Shaw, at 38, the oldest player to represent his country in a RWC, and in the form of his life.
When England won RWC 2003, they did so with a blend of youth and experience, most of that know-how being in the forwards. The presence of Jason Leonard (35), Neil Back (34) and England's now-manager Martin Johnson (33 at the time) prompted jibes from the Australian media of 'Dad's Army'.
That's about the same longevity as some of the Springboks forwards, who on the evidence so far are as vigorously effective as ever. And while some of the South Africans seem to have been around for aeons, experience doesn't always equate to age; 70-cap Bryan Habana is still only 28.
And while South Africa may be perceived as an old team, their XV to play Samoa averages 27 years and 227 days.
In fact, their opponents on Friday, Samoa, became the first team to name a starting XV averaging more than 30 at this tournament (30 years and 51 days).
England's 2003 vintage won the Webb Ellis Cup with an average age of 28 years and 288 days, but the 2007 version made the final with an even older side. Their semi-final side averaged 31 years and one day (the oldest team ever).
In fact, England have long been believers in longevity. The 1991 final side was 30 years and 48 days.
Beware the folly of youth: five teams with an average age under 25 have played RWC matches. All have lost.
Anyone looking to write off the Springboks might like to remember the extra-large portion of humble pie consumed in the Sydney area eight years ago.
The Sydney Morning Herald printed this tongue-in-cheek apology: “We would like to admit the following: You were not too old (although we hoped you would be when the game went to extra time). You were not too slow. You scored as many tries as we did.”
- Playoff Winner
- South Africa
- New Zealand