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'It's a funny pic, it's just good fun' - Springboks in good shape for World Cup

Faf de Klerk is enjoying the freedom Jacques Nienaber has given him in defence.

THE BOKS ARE in good shape for this World Cup in more ways than one.

Rassie Erasmus’ men have beaten and drawn with the All Blacks in the past two seasons, they won the recent Rugby Championship, have many key players in form, and have brought several experienced overseas-based players back into their squad.

With Felix Jones now on board to provide knowledge of the Six Nations sides and even New Zealand rugby, as well as one of the best assistant coaches in the world in Jacques Nienaber, Erasmus must be pleased with how the South Africans are shaping up before taking on the All Blacks in their Pool B opener against New Zealand in Yokohama.

On top of that, they’re clearly in superb physical condition if the photo that did the rounds on Twitter last week is anything to go by.

The shot of several Springboks flexing did draw some responses that questioned the legality of how they had got into such good shape, but scrum-half Faf de Klerk joked yesterday that the photo was just a bit of fun.

“It was just good lighting,” said the Sale Sharks halfback with a laugh.

“No, the guys are in great shape. That’s one thing I respect about a lot of the guys, most of them put in an extra effort when not asked, they’ll go and do the extras and that’s good to see.

“There’s been a few funny comments on those photos, but it’s good to see the boys are in shape. The boys who weren’t in shape are in the background. The boys know where to stand in a picture like that.

“It’s a funny story, a funny pic, it’s just good fun.”

Whatever about their body fat percentages, the Boks are looking good on the rugby front ahead of their highly-anticipated clash with the All Blacks.

Star backs like Cheslin Kolbe and big ball-carriers like Pieter-Steph du Toit give them plenty of attacking quality, but their defence has been even more fascinating to watch since Erasmus and Nienaber returned.

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De Klerk, despite standing just 5ft 7ins tall, is a strong defender for the Boks, joining the frontline at times but also having the license to make reads and blitz forward from sweeping positions behind the frontline, often catching opposition scrum-halves off guard.

“The nice thing about Jacques is he is not trying to put any player in a box and telling him the way he needs to defend,” said de Klerk. “He just tries to work on your strengths.

rugby-championship-australia-south-africa De Klerk is a key player for the Boks. Source: AAP/PA Images

“He will never say, ‘Listen, stop doing that, rather do this’. He’d rather try and focus on the positive points. That’s been great in the team environment to give guys confidence to do what they do well.

“For me, personally, it’s been great. We work well together and try to figure out ways to get more involved with the defence, but I also have to check that and not just do that every time because I’m opening up space somewhere else.

“I have to get that balance right. Jacques has been great for the team environment in terms of giving guys confidence to do what they do well; be it tackling high or a guy tackling low.”

De Klerk has been a central figure in the Boks’ resurgence under Erasmus so is better placed than anyone to asses how they have come from the shambolic times under Allister Coetzee to being many peoples’ favourites for Saturday’s clash with the All Blacks.

“I don’t personally think we’re the favourites,” said de Klerk. “Going into the match, both teams can win it and so I’m definitely not going to say we’re the favourites but we know it’s going to be a tight game.

“I think it’s great to have shown what the team has gone from, the way we’ve grown and the structures that we’ve put in place.

“For me, looking back now from 2016, it’s a completely different team, management and structure put in place.

“That’s great to see how it has grown, I’m really proud of the team and the structure for that.

“But this game is going to be 50/50 with the team most up for it pulling through.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo Bay

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