Springboks / 1 November 2019, 09:00am / WILL KELLEHER
If South Africa win the World Cup tomorrow it will be the most sensational turnaround — from battered Boks to the sport’s best in 26 Tests.
Rassie Erasmus, their 47-year-old head coach, came in to sort out the mess just last year. He appointed himself, as he is the director of rugby who got rid of previous coach Allister Coetzee after a desperate run of results. Erasmus will get rid of himself after tomorrow too, moving back upstairs. He was only in the role to firefight, but is one win from setting the world alight.
In 18 months Erasmus has brought home the best players playing abroad and nursed the wounded Springboks back to health. He has brought a rugby nation back onside too.
‘If you look at it,’ he said, ‘the only failure would be if we don’t pitch up and give everything. We started this whole journey 18 months ago and we said the main thing is how we play rugby. When we win, people will start supporting us again and talking about us.
‘Then you know South Africans are supporting you again, when they start engaging. We knew that it would be a process and we knew that the scoreboard at the end of the day would count.
‘For me, it’s an emotional one in the sense that I didn’t think 25 Test matches would go that quickly. It’s wonderful to be here. It’s sad that it’s only two days and then it is all over.
‘But hell, I must say, me being involved again gives me such hope for what rugby can do for South Africa.
‘I was one of those guys three years ago who said, “Let’s just play, boys. Stop talking about this hope thing. Rugby is rugby, and let’s just play”. But I’ve totally changed my mind. I believe if we play the right way, with the passion, and the people can see it, it just helps people forget about their problems. Whatever happens on Saturday, we have to make sure we use this for the next four, five, six, seven years, that it doesn’t get lost again, the positivity, what we get out of Saturday.’
Perhaps more than any other nation a World Cup win can temporarily bind South Africa together.
Erasmus admitted that when he appointed the Boks’ first black captain, Siya Kolisi (below), last summer he did not realise the significance of the selection. But now the boy from the township — who could not afford a television so watched the 2007 win in a tavern — is 80 minutes from lifting the World Cup.
‘My plan never was this big thing to get the country behind us,’ Erasmus added. ‘It was sudden and I was caught a bit off, maybe a bit naive, in thinking that this would be such a massive thing for him.
‘I thought his game suffered a little bit in the first few games. Then he got better and better, and we always knew he was a great player.
‘When that got better, he got an injury and we had to get him slowly back into the mix for the World Cup. But the timing is great now. He is firing fit to have a good final. It’s his 50th Test match, and it is fitting and a wonderful occasion for a guy to be the first black captain.