Rassie Erasmus has called on South Africa to revive the spirit of 1995 and 2007 and help bring about vital change in their country by landing the Rugby World Cup.
The Springboks coach sends his team out to tackle marginal favourites England in Saturday’s final in Yokohama, with a black captain in Siya Kolisi leading the reigning kings of the Rugby Championship.
Erasmus admitted he was “naive” to think the appointment of Kolisi as South Africa’s first black rugby union captain was not majorly significant.
But he is not blind to the fact a South African triumph in rugby’s biggest match could lift the nation in the way their predecessors also achieved.
South Africa’s 1995 World Cup win will always be remembered for Nelson Mandela, the political prisoner who became president in the early post-apartheid years, handing over the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar.
Should Kolisi lift the Webb Ellis Cup, it would be another landmark moment in South Africa’s history.
Looking back to the 1995 triumph, Erasmus said: “We know what impact that had for our country.
“We do have some challenges in our country in different levels and different avenues, but rugby is one of the things that for a few minutes – and sometimes when we win for a few hours, days and months – people forget about their disagreements and stop disagreeing for a while and agree.
“I think what we experienced from 2007 and 1995 is that you can fix a lot of things in that time. In South Africa we need that. That is a maximum motivation for us on Saturday.
“We’re trying to win for South Africa but not just because of our supporters but because our country has a lot of things we want to fix and we want to help fix that.”
— Springboks (@Springboks) October 30, 2019
Kolisi emerged from a tough upbringing in a township close to Port Elizabeth to lead his country, yet Erasmus, who will step down as coach after the final, missed what appeared obvious to others when making the captaincy appointment.
“I was a bit naive in thinking this would be such a massive thing with him being captain,” Erasmus said. “I picked Siya because he was the best-performing Super Rugby captain [for the Stormers]. It caught us both off guard and his game suffered a bit in the first few games.”
Injuries have impeded Kolisi, who will win his 50th cap on Saturday, but Erasmus said: “I think he’s fighting fit to have a good final.”
England are not worrying about life at home as they seek a second World Cup triumph, after the 2003 final win over Australia in Sydney.
Coach Eddie Jones believes his team are showing a “steeliness” about them that bodes well, and despite admitting there is some nervousness in the camp, the former Japan boss says there is also “a nice relaxed feeling”.
“We’ve spent four years getting ready for this occasion,” Jones said on Thursday.
He knows South Africa well – his Japan side stunned them at the 2015 World Cup – and says the Springboks are just as clued up on England’s strengths and weaknesses.
“The way the game is at the moment and the amount of games international teams play, you know each other pretty well,” Jones said.
“They’ll know our players, we know their players. We’ve got a pretty good idea of how they’ll play and they’ll have a pretty good idea of how we play.
“So it’s more about the fact you’ve got to be at your best on the day rather than familiarity now.”
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 31, 2019
PLAYERS TO WATCH
England – George Ford
Percy Montgomery kicked South Africa to glory in the 2007 final, slotting over four penalties, and there is a suspicion it could come down to precision from the tee again on Saturday. Ford booted four successful penalties against New Zealand in the semi-finals, and England cannot afford to leave points out on the pitch with the trophy in their sights. Ford, and Owen Farrell if called upon, have the big-game credentials to get the job done.
South Africa – Cheslin Kolbe
Flying wing Kolbe missed the semi-final against Wales with an ankle injury, but the Toulouse flyer is back for the big one. He poses a serious threat to England, bringing pace and panache to the party, and in a game that might be effectively settled by one flash of genius, Kolbe would feature high on any list of potential match-winners. As Farrell said on Thursday: “I think it’s clear for everyone to see what kind of a threat he is.”
KEY OPTA FACTS
– If England win, they will become the first side to beat Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the same edition of the Rugby World Cup. Only Argentina have previously faced each of the traditional southern hemisphere giants at an edition of the World Cup, losing all three such matches in 2015.
– Both of South Africa’s previous Rugby World Cup finals have been try-less affairs (15-12 v New Zealand in 1995, 15-6 v England in 2007).
– South Africa have the best lineout success rate (98 per cent) of any side in the tournament. They had a 100 per cent rate before losing one in their semi-final clash with Wales.
– Owen Farrell needs 11 points to become the second player to reach 100 Rugby World Cup points for England after Jonny Wilkinson (277 points). He averages 10.3 points per game against South Africa (103 in 10 games).
– Manu Tuilagi has scored six tries this year, and no other player in Test rugby has scored as many in 2019 while playing at centre. He has never scored in four previous matches against South Africa, however.
– Makazole Mapimpi already has 13 tries in 13 caps for South Africa, including nine in his last seven appearances.
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