The Springboks will benefit from a strong leadership core at the World Cup, writes former captain JEAN DE VILLIERS.
Rassie Erasmus deserves a lot of credit for the manner in which he has managed and developed this Springbok side in the lead-up to the World Cup. Right now, there are five players in the squad who have led the team in the high-pressure environment of Test rugby, as well as several more in the group who have captained a team at Super Rugby level.
Consider where the Boks were 18 months ago. Back then, there weren’t many players with leadership experience and this had an impact on the team’s performances and results. When I look at the present squad, however, I’m reminded of the strong leadership group the Boks boasted the last time we won a World Cup in 2007.
Siya Kolisi has flourished in his role as captain. Others such as Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits have received opportunities to lead the Boks, while those who have led their franchises – such as Handre Pollard, Lood de Jager, Beast Mtawarira, Franco Mostert, Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff – have further strengthened the Bok leadership core.
It’s important to have more than one man in the group who understands the pressures of leading a team. It takes more than one man to make the big decisions and to ensure that the group remains aligned in its approach and thinking.
There’s more to it than deciding on whether you should kick for goal or for touch at a crucial stage of a match. The other leaders in the side have a key role to play off the field in terms of the work ethic and culture. This is especially important when you are together for long periods and under intense scrutiny – such as when you are competing for a period of seven weeks at a World Cup.
The reality of these do-or-die tournaments is that some players will start more regularly than others. Some will spend most of the competition on the bench, while others will receive very little game time at all. The key to a successful culture – and as history shows, a successful campaign – is keeping every member of the squad happy, motivated and focused on the overriding goal, which is to win the World Cup.
We had a lot of great leaders in our side back in 2007. John Smit, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Juan Smith, Butch James, Johann Muller … the list goes on. There were other senior players such as Os du Randt and Percy Montgomery, who had a lot to impart in terms of experience and leadership. All of those players were influential in the latter stages of the tournament and in the final itself.
One shouldn’t underestimate the role played by Bob Skinstad at that tournament, though. Bob didn’t make the team for the final yet still had a part to play in terms of motivating all and sundry and maintaining a positive environment. Schalk Brits should play a similar role in Japan.
Rassie may opt to give a number of the ‘fringe’ players a run in the games against Namibia and Canada. Come the playoffs, however, there will be eight guys in the squad who will be watching from the stands.
Like Bob, Schalk will have an important job to do in keeping those non-playing squad members positive. I know from experience that those players can have an impact on the squad as a whole. They have the potential to lift the 23 that have been selected to play. On the other hand, if the non-playing squad members are in a bad space, it can affect the starting XV.
It’s something Rassie has got right over the past two seasons. From what I’ve heard, this side boasts a competitive yet happy culture. While competition for starting places is fierce, everyone is working towards a common goal.
It’s an attitude that will serve the Boks well in Japan.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images
*De Villiers is a former Bok captain and World Cup winner, who earned 109 Test caps. He now serves as the head of philanthropy at Citadel. Follow him on Instagram @jean_devilliers.