Opinion / 20 September 2019, 07:37am / Mark Keohane
CAPE TOWN – The memory of iconic Springbok winger Chester Williams has only added to the emotion of the Springboks Rugby World Cup opener against the defending champion All Blacks in Yokohama tomorrow.
Williams’s image will be embedded into the playing number on the team’s jerseys, with Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus saying that while Chester didn’t like being the centre of attention, he would have enjoyed being part of a Springboks versus All Blacks Test match "one more time".
Erasmus and Williams were Springbok teammates in 1998 when the Springboks won the Tri Nations.
The Springboks will play their biggest match since the 2015 World Cup 20-18 semi-final defeat against the All Blacks at Twickenham in London, and many critics abroad, in Japan and in South Africa are making the Springboks favourites to end the All Blacks 14-Test unbeaten run at the last two World Cups.
The All Blacks, the first team to defend the World Cup, would make history in adding a third successive title and their coach Steve Hansen earlier in the week described the current squad as "pioneers because they are going where no team has gone before".
Erasmus said it didn’t get bigger than playing the All Blacks in a World Cup and what would allow him to enjoy the occasion a little more would be that win, lose or draw both teams would still be in the competition.
It is the first time the All Blacks and Springboks will face-off in a World Cup Pool match, with their previous matches all coming in the play-offs. Both teams are being tipped as finalists, regardless of tomorrow’s outcome.
Erasmus, since taking charge of the Springboks last year, has been consistent in his view that to win the World Cup, his side would have to beat New Zealand twice.
Hansen told the New Zealand media that nothing separated the two teams in quality and player match-ups, and this has been supported by the last four Tests played between them.
The Kiwis won 25-24 in Cape Town, the Springboks won 36-34 in Wellington, New Zealand, the All Blacks won 32-30 in Pretoria and the teams drew their most recent outing 16-all in Wellington, New Zealand, during the Rugby Championship.
The Springboks won the Rugby Championship but Erasmus and Hansen have said that the challenge of playing in a World Cup was unique and history and Rugby Championship results had no significance.
“It is a new challenge and a new match,” said Erasmus.
The Springboks were the first team to arrive in Japan and their preparations included a 41-7 win against hosts Japan. Erasmus hopes the Boks will also be the last team out of Japan.
The All Blacks opted to play their final warm-up match in Hamilton, New Zealand, and thrashed Tonga 92-7.
Weather conditions and referees have been the main talking points in the build-up, with South African scrumhalf Faf de Klerk believing the match could be decided by a refereeing decision more than a moment of player brilliance.