Former World Cup-winning captain John Smit says the Boks proved in 2018 that they have the ability to beat top teams such as the All Blacks, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On 21 September, the Springboks will tackle New Zealand in their first pool B game of the World Cup in Japan. It’s a headline fixture that will have been penned down in the diaries of rugby lovers from around the world.
The outcome of that clash could also have a massive bearing on the composition of the playoff matches. As the draw stipulates, the runners-up in Pool B (also including Italy, Namibia and Canada) will face the winner of Pool A – widely expected to be Ireland.
Plenty can still happen between now and then, and for one, the Springboks are first set to face the All Blacks in a Rugby Championship precursor on 27 July. It’s a match-up that imports utmost importance in a World Cup year.
As part of the buildup to the global showpiece in Japan, official World Cup sponsor Heineken hosted a captain’s dinner in Stellenbosch on Tuesday, with the likes of Jean de Villiers and Smit sharing some of their memories of the tournament.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) February 20, 2019
Smit, who famously lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2007, said he had certainly been encouraged by the progress that the Springboks were making under coach Rassie Erasmus.
‘We’ve definitely seen that the Boks have it in them to beat the All Blacks. They’ve got what I think is becoming a nicely developed defensive system, which takes the space away from the opposition.
‘We’ve seen that the All Blacks don’t like that aggressive choking defence, but decision-making is so important in a system like that, and you have to scramble if it doesn’t work out. If we’ve got that in place, we will be a tough team to beat.’
Smit said that the prospect of facing the reigning world champions would certainly add a different perspective to World Cup preparations, and in that context, he highlighted the importance of the Rugby Championship Test in Wellington.
‘This year will be quite different because we always expected to catch the All Blacks somewhere in the playoffs in past World Cups. This time we know it’s the first game up. The words of Jake White always resonate in my ears, he kept on telling us that there’s never been a team that has won the World Cup without going unbeaten for seven weeks.
‘But you never know, and if the Boks can beat the All Blacks in Wellington for a second time, that would help immensely from a confidence point of view. We probably should have beaten them twice in a row last year, and so if they can win this year’s Rugby Championship game, then Rassie [Erasmus] would probably be looking forward to that World Cup opener more than [All Blacks coach] Steve Hansen.’
At Tuesday’s captain’s dinner, the Webb Ellis Cup was on display as part of an 18-nation global tour en route to Japan. To kick off the South African leg of the tour, the trophy will make its way around Cape Town on 22 February, and will be available for fans to view at the following locations:
- 3-4.30pm: Foresters Arms, Newlands
- 5.30-7pm: Rascals, Kenilworth
- 8-9.30pm: Premium Sports, Mitchells Plain
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) February 19, 2019