It was 75 days of ups and downs, heat, humidity, sunshine and rain, trials and tribulations, seven wins and one defeat, 303 points, 39 tries and one trophy, standing 38cms tall and weighing 4.5kg.
In this, the second part of our RWC recap, we look at the first two pool matches, against New Zealand and Namibia, as the Boks got their title challenge off the ground in Japan. Part 1 can be read by clicking here.
FIRST UP, THE OLD FOE
The old foe and defending RWC champions, New Zealand, stood tall in the Boks’ way in their opening match of the 2019 tournament.
The Springboks moved from Gifu to Kagoshima, where they were based for the duration of the All Black week. The official business also kicked off and Erasmus said they felt the real RWC atmosphere for the first time at the team’s ‘arrival’ press conference in Kagoshima on Friday, 13 September.
Erasmus named his strongest team – unchanged from the Japan game – to face the All Blacks, knowing they will be out for revenge after the teams drew 16-16 in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship a few months before.
“The rivalry is the best it’s been in a while, so I’m looking forward to the game. We will give them the respect they deserve, but all that we can do and sort out is obviously ourselves. We are in a good place at the moment,” said Kolisi on the eve of the match.
It wasn’t to be for the Boks as a flurry of points midway through the first half saw the All Blacks start the RWC with a 23-13 win in Yokohama.
But Erasmus wasn’t down in the dumps about the result…
"Yes, I think we can fight back. Even in this game we fought back. We were 17-3 down and I have seen South African teams take 50 points when they are that amount of points down,” said Erasmus afterwards.
“So to get back from 17-3 down to 17-13 at one point and then be in their 22 and close to scoring a try was good, before two great turnovers by New Zealand. So I think there were stages where we fought back really well.
“If you’re grouped with New Zealand in your pool, you have a good chance of not going through your pool undefeated and then you have to fight back and try to get to the final for the first time not being unbeaten. We have to go that route.”
THE AFRICAN DERBY
Neighbouring Namibia were the Boks’ opponents and they started their fightback to reach the final eight after moving to Nagoya.
There was some bad news on the injury front though, as Trevor Nyakane was ruled out of the rest of the RWC with a calf strain, paving the way for Thomas du Toit to join the squad in Japan.
Erasmus decided to mix things up and handed the ever-smiling veteran Schalk Brits the captaincy for this match, playing in the unusual position of No 8, with only Makazole Mapimpi (left wing) and Lukhanyo Am (centre) left from the 23-13 reverse against New Zealand, to make back-to-back starts.
Brits said the Boks’ focus was on putting in place the evolving gameplan, rather that chopping and changing for different opponents: “Essentially for us it is about putting processes in place. We had a couple of learnings from our game against New Zealand and we want to change a couple of things and we’ll be focusing on that.”
The Boks managed very well and put their African neighbours away by 57-3, with Mapimpi and Bongi Mbonambi scoring two tries apiece, while Am, Warrick Gelant, Siya Kolisi, Brits and Francois Louw also crossed the chalk.
“They really came for us physically very hard. We might not have had a really hard tactical challenge in this game but physically we were challenged,” said Erasmus afterwards, before adding that their focus would shift immediately to the tough challenge of Italy in their third Pool C match.