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'I'm not 100% sure a World Cup is going to be won by a very expansive game plan'

Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks ground their way into a World Cup final against England.

YOU MIGHT HAVE noticed that Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus has been sporting white shirts over the course of the last few World Cup games as his side have ground their way into the final.

It turns out that it’s actually the same shirt Erasmus has been superstitiously recycling.

“Every time last year when we lost a match, I changed my clothing,” explained Erasmus after his Boks had beaten Wales 19-16 in their World Cup semi-final in Yokohama.

wales-v-south-africa-2019-rugby-world-cup-semi-final-international-stadium-yokohama Erasmus has guided the Springboks into the World Cup final. Source: David Davies

“So last year I had to change my clothing quite a lot because we lost quite a lot.

“This year, I’ve only had to change it once so I’m hoping I can wear this until the end of the final. This is my lucky shirt so far.”

There is, of course, much more to South Africa’s run to the 2019 World Cup final, a remarkable achievement when one considers that the Boks were in a dark place when Erasmus took over at the end of 2017.

That year had seen the Springboks hammered 57-0 by New Zealand, while they had lost eight of their 12 Tests in 2016 under Allister Coetzee.

Less than two years into Erasmus’ tenure, the Boks are into the World Cup decider, where they will meet England next Saturday at International Stadium Yokohama in a repeat of the 2007 decider, which the South Africans won.

“I think we’ve always had the potential in South Africa to be a force in Test rugby and have always been,” said Erasmus when asked about his team’s transformation.

“Even in 2015 when we lost to Japan, we still played in the semi-final and only lost to New Zealand by two points. In 2011, we lost in the quarter-final against Australia, in my opinion, in a quite controversial way. In 2007, we won it.

“In 2009, we were number one in the world, so we’re always there or thereabouts.”

Erasmus credited the increased professionalism of South African players in recent years for the improvement at Test level and he feels the Springboks are now getting closer to reaching their vast potential.

siya-kolisi-and-duane-vermeulen-celebrate-after-the-game Duane Vermeulen and Siya Kolisi embrace. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Not that we’ve achieved anything but I think we’re slowly moving up the standards of where Ireland are maximising their potential and Scotland are maximising their potential, the same as New Zealand,” said Erasmus, the former Munster head coach. 

“We don’t have the money that England have. We have the player pool but if you go numbers-wise, I think England has got the most players and France is next, then it’s South Africa third or fourth.

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“We’ve got different challenges in South Africa for different reasons. Obviously, the rand is not as strong if you compare it with the euro and the French markets and so on.

“So we had to make some changes in the regulations in terms of using overseas players. We had to talk to the franchises in terms of getting conditioning standards the same, Super Rugby coaches working together.

“Everyone has bought into it quickly and that’s a positive. But we’re only in the final and let’s see how that goes to really know if we turned the corner as quickly as we wanted to.”

Erasmus’ achievement will remain impressive even if the Boks don’t win next weekend, and it’s clear that they will need to improve to beat England after Eddie Jones’ men swept past the All Blacks last night.

The Springboks played ugly rugby against Wales in a game where both sides combined evenly for a total of 81 kicks from hand, but Erasmus won’t care.

He is into a World Cup final with the minimum of collateral damage and with plenty of scope to change his starting team if he feels they need to freshen up with a six-day turnaround. Erasmus should also be able to recall his most creative back in wing Cheslin Kolbe, who missed the Wales game through injury.

japan-rugby-wcup-wales-south-africa Rassie Erasmus has a drop-goal attempt before his side's win. Source: Mark Baker

England will be the favourites but Erasmus doesn’t necessarily think his Boks need to start flinging the ball around to beat them.

“There are definitely some areas in our game which must improve but we’ve given ourselves a chance,” said Erasmus. “We’ve played England four times in the last 18 months and it’s 2-2, so we’re accustomed to the way they play.

“They’re obviously much better than the last time we played them, you could see that last night with the way they dismantled New Zealand.

“We think we’re in with a chance. We’ve got a six-day turnaround.

“I’m not 100% sure if a World Cup final is going to be won by a very expansive game plan with wonderful tries. It might be, I might be wrong. But I think we will go and grind it out.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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