The RWC Final was the Boks' finest and most clinical performance in the last two years under Erasmus. Photo: EPA

JOHANNESBURG – Rugby World Cup winners!

Deep down, not too many of us actually expected the Springboks to go all the way, but they have and it’s fantastic.

The Boks had progressed well since Rassie Erasmus took over at the beginning of last season; they’d drawn with, and beaten, their greatest rivals, the All Blacks, and the coach did a few smart things to give us all hope. He picked smartly and wisely, he knew what would work and what wouldn’t, he backed himself, and he trusted the men he appointed alongside him.

It has been quite the journey to this point. The victorious Boks arrived back in South Africa yesterday after spending more than 60 days together in Japan. They were the first squad to arrive on August 31. They have lived together, ate together, trained together and played together.

But, we have to go back even further, to the end of June when Erasmus, his management team and the players first got together to start their preparations in earnest for the World Cup. It is now 20 weeks later.

South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus and RG Snyman pose with the Webb Ellis Cup at the Rugby World Cup in Japan on Saturday. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters

Saturday’s magnificent performance by the Boks in beating England 32-12 in the final - which I believe was their finest and most clinical performance in the last two years under Erasmus - didn’t just happen overnight, nor was it planned in the days before the final in Yokohama.

It required a number of things to work out and fall into place, but there are a few things about the triumph that stand out for me. The first, and most important, I believe is the sacrifice of all the players and coaches over the last few months.

I’ve known 38-year-old Schalk Brits for many years - since his days playing hooker at the Lions. After being enticed out of retirement and then being asked to play for the Bulls in Super Rugby to be eligible for a World Cup spot (while his family home was down in the Cape), I asked him after the 31-man squad was named on August 26, why he thought he’d done the right thing and why did the Boks stand a chance of winning in Japan?

He said he believed the Boks had the right players to challenge for glory and that Erasmus had asked only one thing of the squad: to sacrifice everything for a few weeks.

And they did. The Boks gave up their families and their friends as they camped, trained and played. They left it all behind to focus on one thing, winning the World Cup. And they did, and what a reward.

That sacrifice required a “buy-in” from the players and Erasmus got it. I know for a fact that Erasmus’ hard-line approach, the day-after-day training and the little time off, got to some of the Boks, but they sucked it up, bought into the plan, worked hard and committed to the cause. And they were rewarded.

Lukhanyo Am at the arrival hall at OR Tambo International Airport. Photo: Karen Sandison (ANA)

Trust me, Faf de Klerk doesn’t like putting boot to ball at every ruck, scrum and maul. He wants to run with the ball, like he did when he played at the Lions. Erasmus, too, has admitted his team’s game-plan in Japan was not the most attractive, but, boy, was it effective.

The other thing that has stood out about the Boks of 2019 is their professionalism. And Erasmus alluded to this during the knockout stages when things started to get real. He said the players had finally realised what it meant to be a professional rugby player and taken ownership thereof.

“There was a time when being a pro was earning a pay cheque, but players now realise they have to work hard,” said Erasmus.

The Boks are today three-time World Cup winners. Under Erasmus and the outstanding leadership of Siya Kolisi, the Boks are back at No 1 and they are again fully and properly respected in the rugby world. It wasn’t the case in 2016 and 2017.

How quickly things have changed, and thanks must go to the coaching team and the players for what they have given up - sacrificed - to give South Africa something really special to cheer.

Makazole Mapimpi and Willie le Roux arrive at O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
@jacq_west


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