The Boks are often at their most dangerous when they have been written off, or not given much of a chance.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan kicks off in a week and on Saturday the Springboks take on the All Blacks in their opening game.
Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen looks at the reasons to be cheerful about the Boks’ chances at the tournament, but also why we shouldn’t get over-excited either
Five reasons to be optimistic
1. Form. The Boks go into this World Cup on the back of a good, and winning, 2019, having laid a strong and solid foundation last year. Just as losing becomes a habit – as was the case in 2016 and 2017 – winning, too, becomes a habit and the Boks are high on belief and the taste of success.
2. Depth. Coach Rassie Erasmus has looked at – and given – several players over the last two years an opportunity to play their way into the Bok team. Some grabbed their chance, others didn’t, but the reality is the best 31 available men are in Japan, and Erasmus would be happy to pick any player at any stage.
3. Early arrival. The Boks, with their decision to play Japan in a warm-up game and visit schools and other public places, have turned the locals into fans who’ll show plenty of support to Siya Kolisi and co from next week. Also, the Boks would have acclimatised well to the hot and humid conditions.
4. All Blacks. There’s only one team the Boks believe should be allowed to beat them and that’s the All Blacks. Going into the opener, on neutral ground, it’s tough to call a winner, but the good news is that win or lose, the Boks get the “big one” out of the way early. That is, until the final, when the teams can only meet again.
5. Planning. Ask anyone who’s close to the Bok squad what stands out more than anything and they’ll tell you it is the planning and preparation done by Erasmus. The Bok boss has always been known to be a hard worker and he’s left no stone unturned in getting his team ready for this tournament.
Five reasons to be glum
1. Burn-out. By the time the Boks kick off against New Zealand they would have been in Japan a full three weeks. And before that they were in camp in various locations for weeks on end, while the Rugby Championship was on the go. Boks fans must hope they’re not “finished”.
2. Peaked. They go into the tournament with five Tests, and no losses in 2019. They have, in the space of a few months, gone from no-hopers to among the favourites, which is a massive positive. But, in smashing Australia and drawing with the All Blacks in New Zealand, have they peaked too soon?
3. Individuals. While the Boks as a whole have performed well this season, some individuals have yet to hit top gear. Here we think of Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux, and Malcolm Marx, among others, while some of the back-up men will go into the tournament with little actual playing time behind them.
4. All Blacks. Sure, the Boks have given the defending champions a mighty good go in the last two years and they’ll go into the opener with confidence, but they’ll be desperate to avoid a heavy defeat. It’s a massive game and the performance will set the tone for the rest of the tournament.
5. Favourites. For whatever reason, the Boks are often at their most dangerous when they have been written off, or not given much of a chance.