Lood de Jager says the Springboks are relishing the opportunity to play in a World Cup final after falling short of this goal in 2015. JON CARDINELLI in Yokohama reports.
De Jager failed to suppress a smile when he fronted the media after South Africa’s 19-16 win against Wales. The Boks will face England in the World Cup final next Saturday and De Jager – as well as several other senior players – feel that the opportunity itself is something worth celebrating.
De Jager was part of the Bok side that lost to the All Blacks in the 2015 World Cup semi-final staged at Twickenham. The big lock was inconsolable after that game, while his second-row partner Eben Etzebeth would later describe it as ‘the worst day of my life’.
‘It felt bad to bow out that way in 2015,’ De Jager said. ‘Now here we are. We are through to the final.
‘I don’t think it’s sunk in completely just yet. All I know is that we’ve got our foot in the door. Anything can happen in a World Cup final.’
Beast Mtawarira, the most-capped player in the Bok squad and a veteran of three World Cups, has never played in a final before. The prop made his Super Rugby debut for the Sharks shortly before the Boks won the World Cup back in 2007.
‘That win in 2007 was amazing, inspirational stuff,’ said Mtawarira. ‘To be part of a World Cup final is a dream for me, a dream come true. I feel like I’ve worked my whole career to get here, so I’ll make it count.’
The 34-year-old prop feels that the Boks will go into the decider as underdogs. England hammered New Zealand in the first semi-final via a physical and tactically astute approach, and many neutrals believe that they will be too strong for South Africa.
‘I’d probably say that they are the favourites,’ Mtawarira said. ‘They’ve been playing really well. That performance last night was brilliant, so maybe we’re the underdogs in this one.’
Duane Vermeulen was also part of the team that fell short of qualifying for the final in 2015. Late on Sunday night, the Bok vice-captain said that the team has grown a lot in recent years and learned to win the big moments.
Vermeulen had a different view, though, with regard to whether either side deserves the tag of favourites.
‘It’s two teams playing in a game for the World Cup. It’s two teams who didn’t win it four years ago, so in a way both teams are underdogs,’ the No 8 said.
A new champion will be crowned no matter the outcome next Saturday. The All Blacks, who won the tournament in 2011 and 2015, are no longer in the mix.
The Boks haven’t won the World Cup since 2007. England – the only northern-hemisphere side to lift the Webb Ellis Cup – haven’t won it since 2003.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images