The Springboks can leave the fanfare and controversy behind and embrace a different sort of pressure when they depart for the World Cup this Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The 2015 Test season has been a turbulent one to date. The Boks lost all three of their Rugby Championship Tests, a rotten run that included a first-ever defeat to Argentina. South Africa conceded four tries and as many as 37 points on that dark day in Durban.
The subsequent criticism levelled at head coach Heyneke Meyer for a perceived unwillingness to transform the national side affected the management as well as the playing group. The Boks bounced back to win the one-off Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires, but Meyer and company would have felt more relief than elation in the wake of that result.
The announcement of the 31-man World Cup squad on 28 August was a tense affair. One got the feeling that Meyer, his lieutenants, and all the players couldn't wait to board the plane for England and leave all of the drama behind.
The good news for the South African traveling party is that the day of departure has almost arrived. Following a public send-off in Johannesburg on Friday, the Boks will fly out to London. They should be settled at their hotel in Eastbourne by Saturday afternoon.
One would hope that their departure is devoid of drama, outrageous statements and big promises. Unfortunately, if the 2011 World Cup send-off is any indicator, we should expect exactly that.
Four years ago, the Boks scrapped to a 17-16 win against Wales in the first match of their 2011 World Cup campaign. At the post-match press conference, Bok captain John Smit said that 'huge pressure had been created from all the public send-offs in South Africa. It got to the point where it felt like a play-off before we had even started our first game.'
Similarly, the class of 2015 should be happier once the public song and dance is done. Then they can concentrate on the task of winning their group, and embracing the unique pressure associated with World Cup play-off matches. Adapting to the northern hemisphere conditions and to the quirks of European referees will also take some time.
Fortunately, the lead-up to the play-offs will be more gradual than was the case in 2011. The Boks will face Japan, a tier-two nation, in their first pool game on 19 September in Brighton. Thereafter, they will face a stern physical test from Samoa before tackling the only other tier-one side in Pool B, Scotland.
The Boks will need to improve as the pool stage progresses. Their final group match against the USA will provide some respite before the pressure spikes again in the quarter-final. They could end up facing Australia or Wales, teams they have lost to in the past 12 months. They may also have to play the hosts, England, in the first round of the knockout stage.
Upon arrival in England on Saturday, the Boks will begin the process of adapting to the conditions and acquainting themselves with that pressure.
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