’Top dog’ Bongi Mbonambi led the Springboks’ charge
CAPE TOWN - Despite the Springboks’ 23-13 defeat to the All Blacks in their 2019 Rugby World Cup opener, coach Rassie Erasmus was adamant that his team could still win the tournament.
Even though he told the pack in no uncertain terms at halftime in Yokohama that “you are getting f**ked up by their forwards”, he had seen enough from Siya Kolisi’s team to feel that they could go all the way and lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
All this was revealed in episode three of the special Bok World Cup documentary, Chasing The Sun, which airs on M-Net at 6pm on Sundays.
This past weekend’s chapter of the five-part series chronicled the defeat to the All Blacks, as well as the pool games against Namibia and Italy.
Erasmus had already raised his concern about the Bok forwards ahead of the game, as he told them: “I’m nervous that you don’t know how physical you must be, because normally people say to you, the game doesn’t get won on emotions. People will say emotions will only last five minutes – and that’s true.
“But not against England, not against Australia and not against New Zealand. It lasts for f**king 80 minutes.”
Some of his criticism was a bit harsh, considering that the South Africans were not getting any reward from a dominant scrum, where New Zealand No 1 Joe Moody escaped sanction on a number of occasions for placing his elbow on the ground when up against Frans Malherbe.
Erasmus even ordered Duane Vermeulen to question French referee Jerome Garces on the matter, but while the Boks brought it back to 17-13 in the second half, they still ended up 10 points short.
The coach took the blame for the inconsistent performance: “I can’t fault your effort in the last few weeks. Unfortunately it didn’t show on the field, and obviously there is something I f**ked up somewhere – we will go and have a look and see why we couldn’t execute, why we did things outside our plan.
“You know in the back of your head that we still have a chance, as we just need to beat Italy (to reach the quarter-finals).
“We created more chances in this game than we did in Wellington, Pretoria and last year in Wellington. The reason why I keep on hammering on that, is because I really believe that we can win the World Cup. I give you my word.”
The Boks duly destroyed Namibia and Italy, which proved to be the most crucial week of the tournament as it meant that they could do home if they lost to the Azzurri.
Handre Pollard mentioned that in the little town that hosted the team that week, Omaezaki, “We rock up at this hotel thinking ‘There is nothing, as far as the eye can see! There is nothing to do…”
Erasmus, though, was glad that his players could only focus on the job at hand. There was surprisingly no mention made on the programme of the earthquake that measured 3.2 on the Richter scale in Omaezaki – which houses a decommissioned nuclear power station – that week, although some of the Boks said during press conferences at the time that a few of them had slept through it.
There were three significant moments during this period – Bongi Mbonambi and Lood de Jager ousting Malcolm Marx and Franco Mostert as the first-choice hooker and No 5 lock respectively, while the ‘Bomb Squad’ incident involving Makazole Mapimpi threatened to create a race row.
Also, the establishment of the ‘Bomb Squad’, with six forwards and two backs on the bench, was entrenched.
“Bongi’s a fighter. We like saying you need to be dog sometimes. Bongi’s dog, he’s top dog,” Trevor Nyakane, who was forced out of the tournament with a calf injury, said about Mbonambi.
The Boks rallied together in the wake of the incident where Mapimpi was shooed away by Frans Steyn for wanting to join the ‘Bomb Squad’ huddle after the Italy match, and Erasmus was taken aback by the social media uproar.
“That was a shock, it took the wind out of my sails – I don’t know where it comes from. The worse thing was to say that people ignores him,” the coach said.
“It was probably for me the most disappointing that this guy, who actually represents everything that we want to get right in South Africa – everything – and we were getting it right. He was fighting for everything… for that girl who was murdered in the Post Office, for his mom, dad and brother.
“He was in the team, and everybody loved Mapimpi.”
Lukhanyo Am noted: “The same thing happened to Lood (being told to stay out of the huddle), but that wasn’t shown.”
On the six-two bench split, Erasmus stated: “We actually had this massive tight five, where we couldn’t actually say who is number one and number two. If they are that close to one another, then you can just let each of them play 40 minutes. Science tells you that if a pack plays for 80 minutes, then they can’t be as fit as two packs playing 40 minutes.
“It was really something that I thought would be the secret of the World Cup… and Frans Steyn was vital to that.”
And didn’t that work out beautifully in the end…