The transformation from a team that was sliding down the world rankings during 2016 and 2017 has been inspiring for players and coaches. The Boks won only 11 of 25 matches in those two seasons and suffered a chastening first defeat to Italy, a record defeat by New Zealand (57-0) and a whitewash in the three Tests on the 2016 end-of-season tour.
Performances improved in 2018 – although the win ratio remained a modest 50 percent – under Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby. But the fruits of that labour have been reaped in 2019 with only one defeat in 10 matches and a win ratio of 80 percent.
“Rassie has obviously made a massive difference not just to the Springboks but a lot of decisions have influenced the whole nation,” said Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi.
“He is the sort of coach that has an honest opinion about each and every player and he will tell it to you honestly. He is not the type of coach that will do things behind closed doors – he does it openly in front of the whole team.
"The players have more respect for someone like him; someone that tells them openly and honestly what he needs from them and what he expects from them. He gives you more freedom to go out there and be yourself and express yourself. That has been the most outstanding thing about the team this year.”
Erasmus set the team three goals for the two year period to the start of the Rugby World Cup: winning, growing depth and experience and transforming.
All three boxes have been ticked this year with strong performances by a representative team that has become the most experienced Springbok combination since the centurions Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Victor Matfield were combined at the last World Cup.
“To me and to everyone in this team it doesn’t matter about your skin colour or wherever you come from,” said Mbonambi.
“Rassie will pick a guy who is there to work hard and do your job and you will work your way into this team.
“Previous coaches would pick someone who had been there for years even though you could see that he was not pulling his weight. Now we know that you will get picked on the basis of the work that you do and how you execute it.”
Matt Proudfoot, assistant coach, said: “Rassie has come on board with a very specific plan to play to the South African strengths and when you get alignment in a team and everyone understands the plan, understands their role in the plan and there’s honesty and buy-in from the group as a collective you can be very, very powerful.
“I think that’s been the big change, the mindset that Rassie has created through the group to empower everybody to take ownership of their role and to play the South African way.
“The players have confidence in it; they have confidence in knowing their roles and knowing what’s expected of them and they go out and they thrive in executing it.”