Crunch time for Rassie's Springboks
CAPE TOWN – The Springboks are already big in Japan and Rassie Erasmus and his team are primed to go from big to colossal with a win against Wales in Sunday’s World Cup semi-final.
Japan has been gripped by World Cup fever for the past six weeks and South Africa’s green and gold are among the most popular colours on show.
The stage is set for a brilliant rugby occasion on Sunday and the Boks have every reason to be hugely confident of dousing the flame of the Welsh.
The super Siya Kolisi will lead a rejuvenated Springbok side against a Welsh team that has beaten the Boks four times in succession and five out of the last six Tests.
But most global critics are dismissing Wales’s recent history against the South Africans, with an acknowledgement that the Boks of 2019 are the real deal.
The Boks have been huge since arriving in Japan a fortnight before the World Cup.
They have been among the most popular teams and Kolisi, as captain, has been a great ambassador of the sport and South Africa.
The World Cup-winning Springboks in 2007 were the best team at the tournament and also the most popular in France.
Kolisi’s new-age pioneers have had a presence even more imposing.
The Springboks are on the cusp of creating World Cup history because no team has lost in the group stages and won the tournament.
The All Blacks beat the Springboks in South Africa’s first World Cup match, but since then the Boks have conceded just one try and hammered every team they have played.
The Springboks are also the only team not to have lost a ball on their own line-out throw.
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Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has been complimentary about Wales and the influence of head coach Warren Gatland, who retires after the World Cup.
“Warren is an absolute legend of the game. You very seldom see him in a mouth fight and mud-slinging before Test matches,” said Erasmus. “He doesn’t bite at you to create unnecessary nonsense before a Test match, so I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a person.
“His results on the field speak for themselves, with the Welsh team and the British and Irish Lions.”
Gatland has been as generous with his praise of Erasmus and the Springboks.
The Springboks, at the end of 2016, were at a low and all credit is due to the leadership in South African rugby in how the situation has been transformed on every level.
SA Rugby Union president Mark Alexander hailed the contribution of Erasmus, his identification of Kolisi as his captain and the overall contribution of the players and management.
Alexander said: “I will never forget where we were at the end of 2016 and so much work has been done since, off the field and on it, to put South Africa back in their rightful place as one of the game’s leading rugby nations.
“I can only applaud the squad for all they have already done for our country since being in Japan.”@mark_keohane