Springboks / 25 August 2019, 3:20pm / clinton van der berg
Last season Aphiwe Dyantyi was all the rage, exploding onto the international scene. Months later, World Rugby acknowledged him as the Breakthrough Player of the Year.
Yet, when the Springboks leave for Japan on Friday, Dyantyi will not be among them. The fickle mistress of fate has dealt her hand.
For every hard-luck story, though, there is a rags-to-riches tale. Welcome to the world of Herschel Jantjies, a bit-part Western Province player last year, a potential superstar this season.
Given a sniff at the national team, Jantjies didn’t need to be asked a second time, putting every prominent scrum-half on warning with vibrant big-game cameos. The naming of the World Cup squad now awaits with 31 players being announced at 3pm tomorrow. The only surprise is that there will be none, unlike in 1995 when little-known Robbie Brink got called up.
Coach Rassie Erasmus set his stall out early and has made it clear who will travel to Japan. His only critical decisions in Japan will revolve around who plays in the big games and who plays in the lesser ones.
As last Saturday proved, even when the Boks aren’t at their best, they are still fiendishly hard to beat. That’s something we haven’t always been able to say. Equally, for at least a dozen positions, we know precisely who will start against New Zealand on September 21. This is a comforting situation, allowing the Boks to tinker with tactics rather than line-ups. Better to channel their energy into the substantive stuff.
The early departure for Saitama is a good thing, allowing the Boks to escape the white noise that is an inevitable by-product of World Cup fever. Small distractions will fast disappear and attention will focus quickly on their warm-up against Japan in a dozen days.
Given what happened the last time these two played, Springbok nerves are sure to be jangling.
There is always a bit of hype and spin around the state of mind of the Springboks, but word on rugby’s verdant grapevine is that team spirit is genuinely good. Provincial and cultural cliques have given way to a happy gathering of single-minded players. This is important, especially when trouble intrudes or big-game pressure mounts.
The powerful personalities of players like Siya Kolisi, Beast Mtawarira, Willie le Roux and Duane Vermeulen will be rich virtues for a team on a major mission. All are dynamic and durable and happily free of ego, something that has tripped up many a World Cup aspirant. Stronger together indeed. On balance, the Boks appear to have the personnel to emulate the teams of 1995 and 2007. They have depth, too, which is important given how a quick sequence of fixtures will bring inevitable injuries. If they appear physically equipped, it is the mental game that needs sharpening.
The Boks must be switched on, ruthless and brutal at the gain line, where so many matches are won and lost. This is the way of Erasmus, whose charm in front of camera is at odds with his behind-the-scenes persona. He’s known to be hard, biting, a task-master who stretches his players and demands exceptional standards.
The Boks will soon be on their way, off for an adventure of a lifetime.