YOKOHAMA — The Springboks’ journey to Rugby World Cup finalists is in part down to a change in the players’ priorities where they parked promoting their social media and moving for financial gain to refocus on playing for their country, according to head coach Rassie Erasmus and captain Siya Kolisi.
South Africa defeated Wales 19-16 in a closely-matched affair in Yokohama on Sunday to book their place in next weekend’s final against England. The feat headlines a remarkable change in fortunes for South Africa since Erasmus took charge in March 2018.
In 2016 they suffered eight Test losses — an unwanted South African record — and then head coach Allister Coetzee was dismissed halfway through his four-year tenure in Feb. 2018.
Erasmus was then in a director of rugby role, but assumed the head coach duties for the journey to Japan and since then they defeated the All Blacks in New Zealand and won the 2019 Rugby Championship. Erasmus now wants the World Cup title to crown a remarkable change in fortunes and he has put a huge amount of praise at the players’ door for how they have turned themselves into contenders for what would be South Africa’s third title.
“The way the players in the last two, two and half years took the responsibility of being very professional and taking ownership of what it means to be a professional rugby player has been the big difference,” Erasmus said.
“There was a stage in South Africa where being a professional rugby player was just earning a pay cheque, but I think currently players understand that if they want to be a professional rugby player, they have to work really hard.
“They can’t just move from province to province and collect a pay cheque. That attitude is slowly spreading throughout the provinces and the franchises and players are really pushing each other.
“That whole level of mediocrity is slowly going out of our game – not that we have achieved anything yet. But we are slowly moving up to the standards where other nations are maximising their potential. Overall the players deserve a lot of credit for taking a more professional approach towards professional rugby.”
Captain Kolisi praised Erasmus’ leadership and said the players no longer focus on building their social media profiles but on performing well. “He [Erasmus] has coached a lot of the guys from different [provincial] unions, so he knows us and has had to pull us together,” Kolisi said. “We had to buy into his plan, and he has made it clear that the Springboks is the most important thing.
“In the past, we tried to build ourselves by our social media, and all those kinds of things. He just brought us back down to earth, and told us, ‘You have to play well first, and everything else will come’.”