Steven Kitshoff says Rassie Erasmus took the Springboks back to the past to help the ‘broken’ team recover from the lows of the 2017 season.
Kitshoff was speaking to SuperSport’s Motshidisi Mohono in reaction to the first episode of the five-part documentary on the Springboks’ 2019 World Cup win, ‘Chasing the Sun’, which premiered on Sunday evening.
The documentary begins with one of the Springboks’ darkest periods of their history in 2016 and 2017, when they suffered historic losses to the All Blacks and Italy and dropped to eighth in the World Rugby rankings.
Kitshoff said that period was a ‘dark time’ for Springbok rugby, but it also provided him with a personal learning curve and greater insight into the expectations of being a Springbok player.
‘2017 was definitely one of the toughest years in my career, losing 57-0 against the All Blacks was a low point,’ Kitshoff said. ‘I think back then the Springbok team was just broken. I don’t think we clicked at all, there was no synergy in the team and we didn’t know what was next, how to go forward from there.
‘I definitely tried to avoid all media, all social media. It was a dark time. I knew inside that things would only get better from here. I knew you can’t get lower than this.
‘Luckily the ship was turned around, so it was great. It was one of those moments in your life, it was a massive learning curve, knowing as a rugby player what it takes to be professional in the game, what it takes to play at that elite level with the Springboks every weekend.
‘As a team, when Rassie came in in 2018 we focused more on playing rugby, and the importance of rugby for South Africa as a country. We started playing like old Springbok teams did and it just turned the tide of SA Rugby.’
One of the keys to turning the Springboks around was Erasmus’ transparent policy on the subject of transformation, which under past coaches had been a devisive and sensitive topic.
‘Rassie was very open about it – [at] one of his first alignment camps, he spoke about winning and playing a transformed team picked on merit,’ Kitshoff explains. ‘It was not a thing guys could hide behind, whether you were selected or not. The guys knew you were there on merit, the team selection protocol was open for all the team to see.
‘You know exactly where you stand and it creates that bond between you and the coach, because you know exactly where you stand. You know you are there on merit and it creates the bond and brotherhood that the team needs to perform.’
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