PRETORIA – The Springboks are back but more importantly their bitter rivalry against the All Blacks is back where it used to be.
These are the shared sentiments of both Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen in the aftermath of their epic battles in Wellington and Pretoria in the Rugby Championship.
While the South Africans drew first blood in the competition with a memorable 36-34 victory against the All Blacks in the New Zealand capital, the triple world champions showed they had lost nothing of their midas touch when they clawed themselves from the jaws of defeat to record a breathtaking 32-30 win over the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
And the biggest compliment the Springboks received on their resurgence and emergence from the doldrums came from a team that is regarded as one of the greatest to have played the game.
As much as the All Blacks hate losing and even more so to the Springboks, they have been glad to see their old foe rise from the ashes again and give them the ultimate test.
“South Africa I thought played incredibly well, and are probably unlucky not to have won it. While we were sitting in Wellington thinking we were unlucky not to win. It is great for the game and for everyone who watched tonight, will know it was a good game,” said Hansen.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read said: “They are capable, they are a side that is very capable when they turn up and they have shown this year against us and Australia that they have a great forward pack and will have that moving forward. They are a team that is going really well and we have a lot of respect for them.”
Erasmus believes that his team have made big strides since taking over this year and with one win from the two close matches against the All Blacks, Erasmus is unshaken in his conviction that his team is now a worthy adversary for their arch rivals.
Even though it is still a year out to next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, Erasmus has feels that his side are already title contenders even with the All Blacks standing in their way in their much anticipated pool game.
“I’ve got to be so careful to say positive things after a loss in South Africa. I don’t want to sound positive after a loss. I just really think the rivalry is back. When New Zealand and South Africa are on the field you are not sure who is winning. That makes us proud until the last minute, today, two weeks ago and at Newlands last year.
I think there are two points in the last three games between the countries. We play once more before we play in the World Cup against each other,” Erasmus said.
“It gives me hope, if we do things right and we give more caps to guys under pressure situations, I really think we have a chance of winning at the World Cup. I learnt a lot, not just about the players but about myself as a coach and as a management, by making some bold calls at times.”
The Boks now face a Northern Hemisphere tour to finish their season, starting with a clash against England at Twickenham on November 3. They also meet France, Scotland and Wales.