TOKYO – There are signs that South Africa's star wing Cheslin Kolbe could be fit for Saturday's 2019 RWC final against England in Yokohama.
Kolbe, who had produced a string of sterling perfromances since the start of the 2019 showpiece in Japan, was forced sit out against Wales on Sunday. His replacement Sbu Nkosi, was impressive on many fronts but there were times when he was out of position in defence.
Kolbe was on the field when the Boks warmed up against Wales on Sunday and didn't show effects of the ankle injury. However, the team's medics will continue to work on his recovery and at this stage everything points to a positive outcome for the winger.
Rassie Erasmus can do with Kolbe's heroics against England. He indicated that the final will be a similarly tight affair, despite England’s unexpectedly comprehensive destruction of New Zealand.
“I’m not sure that the Rugby World Cup final is going to be decided by an expansive game plan with wonderful tries,” said Erasmus.
“I might be right or I might be wrong – but we will go and grind it out.
“There are definitely some areas of our game that we have to improve if we want to win, but we’ve given ourselves a chance.”
The Springboks have done that with a remarkable transformation over the past two seasons.
This season they have won 82 percent of their matches (losing only once in 11), conceding fewer than one try per match (0,91 in fact) while scoring 4,5 themselves, admittedly including matches against Namibia and Canada.
Contrast that to the season prior to Erasmus’s assumption of the reins (2017) when the team had a 50 percent win ratio (losing seven times), conceding 2,6 tries per match and scoring 2,9 themselves.
“We’re a team that’s been together for 25 matches,” said Erasmus.
“We’ve had personnel changes – with a guy like Cheslin (Kolbe) going out and Sbu (Nkosi) coming in – and we’ve played teams with different style and we’re still in a phase where we have to adapt.
“If you play a team like New Zealand with a fast, running game we’re used to that; if we play a team like Wales with a long-distance kicking game it’s different for us to try and run from our own 22.
“But we’ve grown a little bit of experience now and playing against Wales four times we’ve learned our lessons – especially in the Washington test – we were ahead in the last few minutes and then they clawed it back to win that test match.”
That wasn’t to be on Sunday night and although the Welsh managed to draw level three times – having trailed throughout – it was the Springboks who closed the game out.
Wales coach Warren Gatland said afterwards that the Springboks had the capacity to win the title if they expanded their game.
After masterminding what amounts to a Springbok revolution, Erasmus will have his own road map for one last 80 minutes to the title.