World Cup not in the bag, warns White

South Africa may have reached the World Cup final, but they will have achieved nothing if they don’t beat England in Saturday’s showdown, said coach Jake White on Sunday following the Springboks’ 37-13 victory over Argentina.

The 43-year-old also insisted that the 36-0 walloping of England in the pool stages four weeks ago—a record World Cup defeat for the title holders—counted for nothing.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that we are in the World Cup final,” said White, who revealed that South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka had visited the changing room after the match and told them that President Thabo Mbeki would be coming to the final.

Former president Nelson Mandela has also been invited to the game.

“We are proud of getting to the final, but it is meaningless if we don’t get the trophy. I remember sitting in this room after the pool match and I said, ‘Let’s not jump the gun.’ England lost Jonny Wilkinson and Olly Barkley in one week prior to the match and have proved how different they are to that team with Wilkinson at 10 and Mike Catt at 12.

“England have a few players who played in the 2003 World Cup final and they will be tapping all that experience when they face us. The fact we beat them is irrelevant.
The 36-0 score is not going to hang round anyone’s neck, and we have be the last five.”

White, who almost lost his job last November when he was recalled to South Africa in the middle of their autumn tour of the northern hemisphere, paid tribute to his squad.

“This team has gone through highs and lows in the past four years, but have won crucial matches,” he said. “For them to have got through adversity has been a huge psychological bonus.

“This is the most experienced side in Springbok history. It has the most experienced lock pairing [Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha], fullback [Percy Montgomery] and captain [John Smit]. They all add up. They as a group understand each other, feel for each other and, more importantly they are winners, of junior world cups, Currie cups, and that makes a difference.”

Springbok captain John Smit agreed with White that a loss next Saturday will mean nothing was achieved.

“Obviously, I’m happy to have come through to a World Cup final,” said the 29-year-old hooker. “However, the truth of the matter is nothing is in the bag.”

Smit admitted that it had been a tough game against the Pumas, which ended with a player from each side in the sin bin.

“In 70 matches I have never experienced a semifinal with South Africa,” said the captain. “You see how players react under pressure. There is so much to play for and to gain. The physicality we expected. We knew we had to combat this, and set up a strong defence.”

Smit said that the importance to the country of making the final cannot be overestimated.

“I can tell you what the first one [the win in 1995] meant to me as a young boy. In the first one, we as a country needed a lot of energy [in post-apartheid South Africa] and in past 12 years we have come a long way.

“It’s a huge privilege to be able to take our country forward. The amount of support from back home is really stunning. We carry a huge responsibility on our shoulders in six days’ time.”—Sapa-AFP

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin is a journalist with Agence France Presse , who has been based in Paris for 16 years having initially arrived for just a six month summer stay. Born in Ireland in 1965 and educated at Eton and Institute for Foreign Students in Tours after missing out on University by a large margin. His first name is a gift from his grandfather inspired by Radio Caroline but not appreciated by a Roman Catholic priest at christening.  Read more from Pirate Irwin

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