While Rassie Erasmus could have done with a quiet weekend before the World Cup team announcement, the Springboks’ preparations for the event are a lot better than they were four years ago, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Aphiwe Dyantyi’s positive dope test and the allegations of assault against Eben Etzebeth couldn’t have come at a worse time for Springbok boss Rassie Erasmus.
Dyantyi would probably not have made the trip to the World Cup anyway after a sustaining a hamstring injury before the start of the Rugby Championship, but the news of his failed drug test is still an irritating little sideshow ahead of the trip to Japan.
In this day and age it’s absolutely criminal for players to not know what they are putting in their bodies. There are clear guidelines, while the list of banned substances is as long as Etzebeth’s arm and freely available for all to see.
It would be unfortunate for such a talented player at the peak of his powers to sit on the sidelines for the next two years. But, unfortunately, that is the price one pays for being stupid.
News of Etzebeth’s alleged altercation with other patrons outside a Langebaan watering hole may have given Erasmus an uncomfortable night’s sleep. In fact, he might still be looking at the ceiling.
It’s become a bit of a public relations disaster on the eve of their departure to rugby’s showpiece event, and something that has taken some of the gloss off the team announcement on Monday.
Etzebeth’s experience and abilities as a player make him one of the key members of the Bok squad. He is the fire that fuels the Springboks’ physical effort, while he is also one of the best front-lineout jumpers in the game with his energy to get off the ground and his anticipation.
But now he is going to the World Cup under a bit of a cloud, even though he has categorically denied any wrongdoing.
I know all of us want to blow off some steam now and then, and the big lock probably wanted to let his hair down following an intense camp in Bloemfontein the week before. But you can’t put yourself in those situations as a professional rugby player and one of the most recognised Springboks around, where you are still out on the town at 3am and getting into arguments.
We mere mortals can have a final brandy at 3am, stumble to the nearest petrol station for a garage pie and go to sleep with the crumbs still on our faces. But the age of social media doesn’t afford the same courtesy to the very famous among us.
But other than these two incidents, as well assistant coach Swys de Bruin recently quitting the side, the Boks have enjoyed a near perfect run-in to the World Cup as far as their preparations are concerned.
This is in stark contrast to the class of 2015, who had a rather chaotic few months leading up to the event. Their form was terrible, they were struggling to reach their transformation targets and went into the tournament in England with a handful of players recovering from serious injuries.
Erasmus’ team, however, head to Japan unbeaten in 2019, following wins over Australia and Argentina (twice) and a draw with the All Blacks in Wellington. They have all the momentum, while the added bonus of winning the Rugby Championship has given the team an additional feel-good factor ahead of the World Cup.
All the players rocking up in Japan will also have had some time on the park for the Boks. Even captain Siya Kolisi had a good 52-minute outing against the Wallabies, while the intensity of the Bok training sessions will definitely get him up to speed before their opening clash with the All Blacks on 21 September.
There also haven’t been a lot of serious injuries inside the current group, with only Marcell Coetzee’s ankle injury possibly throwing a spanner in the works.
Dyantyi and utility back Damian Willemse would have probably got the nod if they were fit and played in the Rugby Championship, but Erasmus isn’t making the same mistake of taking players to the World Cup who are underdone.
In 2015 it looked like coach Bok coach Heyneke Meyer were trying to ease players such as Fourie du Preez, Jean de Villiers and Pieter-Steph du Toit into the World Cup in their opening match against Japan. We all know what happened on that fateful day in Brighton …
Two years ago nobody would have given the Boks a shot at winning the World Cup, but now they look like they could go all the way, because of meticulous planning.
Hopefully there are no more distractions on their path to possible World Cup glory.
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