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Rassie’s revolution makes Springboks World Cup contenders


27 August 2019, by: Sibusiso Mjikeliso


If you read the tea leaves correctly, a quiet bet on the Springboks to win the World Cup might bring handsome rewards.Don’t look at the odds. Look at the composition of the Rugby World Cup squad that Bok coach Rassie Erasmus named on Monday. Observe the demeanour of the players, how relaxed they are with each other and with the senior staff members.

It wasn’t so long ago that being in a Springbok environment was like being in a Bosasa crisis meeting. There was tension so thick you could butter scones with it. Erasmus’s predecessors Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee had this almost school headmaster vibe.

There was an evident top-down hierarchy. The coach was the lord of the castle and the players acted and behaved like the subjects. It looked as if they lived in fear of being reprimanded.

Naturally, sometimes that environment can have the opposite effect. The players get tired of being treated like children and they act out. Such as when Trevor Nyakane repeatedly “breached team protocol”, missing flights, team buses and the like, in an ill-disciplined spree that characterised the early parts of the Springbok tighthead’s career.

Granted, that was in 2013. And Nyakane (30) is a more mature and significantly more disciplined player than before, but you cannot discount the freedom with which he plays and carries himself.

That tone has been set by the coach. When the 31-man squad names of those travelling to Japan were announced at Multichoice City in Randburg, Nyakane came out unfurling his trademark pearly smile on that big white stage and did a dance that further endeared him to the hundreds inside the building and possibly the millions watching live feeds.It was but one of many signs of what makes a team gel. It isn’t by accident that the Boks have manufactured an unbeaten season in 2019 and added the sweet scent of a trophy to boot.

Players came into this international window with palpable hunger to be part of the travelling group to Japan. Naysayers could point out that the Rugby Championship came in bikini form this year but there have been years (2011 and 2015) when South Africa have failed to win the tournament in its shortened form since they won it in 2009.

The intangibles speak volumes. Take for instance the acceptance of the Gwijo Squad into the inner sanctum of the Bok environment. Could you imagine that happening, say, before the 2003 Rugby World Cup, during the ‘heydays’ of Kamp Staaldraad? Or even as recently as the Meyer and ‘Toetie’ terms?

Meyer couldn’t even be bothered about starting current captain Siya Kolisi (he came off the bench in all 13 Tests he made under Meyer), while Coetzee missed out on a glorious opportunity to rally the country behind the team, when, in 2017, he could have chosen Kolisi to lead the Boks against France at Ellis Park. Instead, Coetzee went with Eben Etzebeth and the chance to create history was almost lost.

Erasmus came in and immediately undid that wrong. Not only that, he allowed Kolisi to do as many sing-alongs with the Gwijo Squad as he wanted, even outside the team hotel on nights before Test matches. Crazy.

The net result could be gathered from what outside centre Lukhanyo Am said at the team announcement regarding the freedoms they enjoy within the national team.

“We feel free within the squad,” Am said.

“When it’s time to work, we work. When it’s time to relax, we try to relax and enjoy ourselves. The coach encourages it. He enjoys it when players are free to express themselves, to sing and build that camaraderie.

“I can say that we are very happy within the team.”

Am is also the kind of player that wouldn’t smell a start in Meyer and Coetzee Bok teams. He probably wouldn’t see a Peter de Villiers Bok team either. But he is the fulcrum of Erasmus’s side.On the more tangible side of things, the Springboks present the biggest threat to current two-time champions, the All Blacks. The results of the last three fixtures between the two great nations speak to that fact.

The Boks have won one (36-34 in Wellington last year), lost one (32-30 at Loftus last year) and drew one (16-all in Wellington this year) against their old foe. That they meet in Yokohama on the 21st of September is a nice appetiser for what I foresee to be a tournament that will be settled by a South Africa-New Zealand final.

And judging from the fact that South Africa won the last World Cup final contested between the two sides and the psychological hurt that victory (15-12 at Ellis Park in 1995) had on the Kiwis, I would back the Boks to come out on top.


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