When Springbok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk was asked if there was anything special about his preparations for today’s World Cup final against the All Blacks, he joked about his golden locks, before getting deadly serious.
“A big part of it is preparing the hair,” he laughed.
“Seriously, this week does feel a bit longer than usual, which is fine because this is no ordinary week. I think the more time we are spending together in this last bit is special.
“We have focused on getting closer as a group in this last week, spending a bit more time together off the training pitch, chatting through our experiences. I can already feel that unity with the group.”
After the draining wins in the quarter- and semi-finals, De Klerk said the Boks have been focusing on taking it easy away from the training pitch in Paris.
“There has been a lot of sleep – going to bed late and waking up late, and then having a nap. We have been playing 9pm games every weekend, so the boys have their routine down. It’s a normal week for us in terms of that.
“We have done our homework on New Zealand. We know them very well by now, and I think one great thing about this team is it has a lot of experience and guys that have gone through this situation before.”
It is no ordinary final, because it is the Boks against foes they have been at loggerheads with since the dawn of the game.
“It means a lot because of the history we have with the All Blacks. In more modern times, we think about the great match in 1995,” De Klerk said about the Ellis Park final.
“Getting to play them in the final again brings back a lot of memories for a lot of people back home. A lot of us were a bit too young to watch that game, but that’s where the (modern) rivalry started.
“And looking at the players they have in their side, guys that we’ve been looking up to since we were at school, playing their final games now … there’s a lot that’s special about this game.
“To say you dreamed about this is probably wrong, because I don’t think you dream that far. If it’s my last game, I want to remember it for putting everything on the line.”
De Klerk, who has 54 Test caps to his name and turned 32 just last week, said that some of the 1995 Bok heroes had wished them well.
“We have had messages from some and quite a few have watched training sessions, so we’re feeling the support from them. We know how proud they made the country and how proud they are of us.”
Much has been made of the Bok bench, with just one backline replacement in Willie le Roux, but De Klerk is not fussed about what might happen if there are any injuries at the Stade de France.
“We’ve played like this before, and I’ve played a lot of 80-minute games in my life. If you’re going to pace yourself, you’re going to lose this game,” the blond-haired No 9 said.
“Luckily, we’ve got Kwagga (Smith) covering nine as well, as he doesn’t get tired, so that’s fine.
“Cheslin’s also been training there, so we’ve got back-up. But hopefully I can be there at the end when we win. I just have to make sure I’m recovered well for the game.”
De Klerk said the way the All Blacks have turned their season around after losing several matches has been phenomenal.
“The way they have bounced back shows a team that is close together and is full of belief. They had a lot of scrutiny after those games, but they’ve turned it around and are playing unbelievable rugby,” he said.
“It’s good to see a side that can internally sort things out. They are playing with a lot more confidence.
“They have such great players and leaders, and I think (opposite number) Aaron Smith is one of the best guys for that.
“He’s the gel, on and off the field, sharing his experiences and getting through tough times in his career.
“He’s been a great player for New Zealand, and one of the guys I’ve definitely looked up to. Hopefully I can get one over on him for this game.”