The Springboks’ place in the World Cup final is proof that South African rugby has turned a corner, reckons Rassie Erasmus. Speaking after a bruising victory over Wales in the second semifinal of the weekend, the director of rugby was keen to talk up the effort put into turning the national team into a world-class side once more.
“We have always had the potential to be a force in world rugby and historically we have been, but we have been through some tough times in recent seasons,” he said.
“The way the players in the last two, two and a half years, took the responsibility of being very professional and taking ownership of what it means to be a professional rugby player has been the big difference.”
There is no denying that it was hard to envision a run to the World Cup final three years ago when the Boks laboured to one of their worst seasons. But this team has come a long way since. And this current season is demonstrative of that. The Boks have lost just once this season – to New Zealand in their opening World Cup game. They also added the Rugby Championship title along the way.
Since the opening game, there has also been little to fault in the South African gameplan. All comers have slowly been ground down and the men in green and gold have never looked complacent.
“There was a stage in South Africa where being a professional rugby player was just earning a pay cheque, but I think currently players understand that if they want to be a professional rugby player, they have to work really hard,” Erasmus said.
“They can’t just move from province to province and collect a pay cheque. That attitude is slowly spreading throughout the provinces and the franchises and players are really pushing each other.
“That whole level of mediocrity is slowly going out of our game – not that we have achieved anything yet. But we are slowly moving up to the standards where other nations are maximising their potential.
“Overall the players deserve a lot of credit for taking a more professional approach towards professional rugby.”
“But we are only in the final – let’s see how the final goes and then we’ll really know if we’ve turned the corner as much as we wanted to.”
England have looked formidable in the knockout rounds and will enter Saturday’s final as favourites. Eddie Jones’s men demolished Australia in their quarter final before turning in a powerful performance against the All Blacks on Saturday. The sight of the World Champions perpetually bullied onto the back foot is something most of us are unlikely to forget soon.
The English are also likely the only side that could match the Springboks for strength at the moment. Prepare for a titanic collision as these lock up for what is likely to be fierce scrap. All eyes on Yokohama this weekend.