Rassie Erasmus is pushing his charges to improve their pressure management and decision-making to ensure that they succeed where past World Cup teams have failed. JON CARDINELLI in Kobe reports.
The Boks have impressed with a series of robust performances over the course of the pool stage. They rattled the All Blacks at times in the crunch fixture in Yokohama. They hammered Namibia, Italy and Canada at the set pieces and collisions.
Physically, they are peaking at the right time. All 31 players should be available for the quarter-final showdown in Tokyo next Sunday. One would expect the Boks to take the physical fight to the opposition for 80-plus minutes. Will a dominant physical performance be enough, though?
I put this question to the Bok coach at a press conference in Kobe on Friday. He provided an interesting answer.
‘We can’t get much fitter, faster or physically tougher over the next three weeks. I suppose that your conditioning standards might drop if you slack off, but I don’t think that anybody is going to get better in that department.
‘I believe a lot of it will be mental. It will be won and lost upstairs,’ Erasmus stated emphatically.
‘I look back at my own experiences where we lost, in 1999 when I played for the Boks at the World Cup, and then in 2011 when I was on the coaching team. Those losses were down to the mental failure rather than the physical failure.
‘Discipline cost us in 1999. In 2011, we struggled to handle David Pocock at the breakdown [in the quarter-final loss against Australia]. We couldn’t get that across to the referee [Bryce Lawrence]. We didn’t have the ability to change that situation.’
The Bok coach revealed that the team has been working hard behind the scenes to simulate certain scenarios and to develop the skills needed to prevail in these do-or-die clashes.
‘It’s all about pressure. How you handle it, and how you transfer it back onto the opposition.
‘There are also different forms. For example, if we play Japan in the quarter-final, there will be massive pressure because we are playing the hosts in front of their home crowd. The mental aspect will play a massive role.
‘We have to get those things right in the big games. We are currently role-playing and putting players in specific situations in training. I think it’s working on the whole, although it didn’t work against New Zealand,’ he added with a laugh.
The players reconvened in Kobe on Friday morning after a two-day break. The team will enjoy a nine-day buildup to the quarter-final. The Boks will only know who they are playing next week after the final pool fixture between Japan and Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday.
‘It was good to switch off for a couple of days. I could see that a few of the players were still switched off for the first five or 10 minutes of the training session this morning,’ Erasmus said with a chuckle. ‘They switched on after that, though.
‘The butterflies and nerves will settle once we know who our opponents are. I feel that we are in a good space.’
Rassie puts down a sitter! Lighter moment at the training session held at the Kobelco Steelers Rugby Club this morning. pic.twitter.com/mtiB2pOSmK
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 11, 2019
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets