The mastermind behind the Springboks’ inspirational Rugby World Cup campaign, said it had been a privilege for the team to attempt to give South Africa a moment of hope.
Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby, said after the team’s ultimately crushing, 32-12 victory over England in Japan that the team had been inspired by the opportunity to bring some light and joy into the daily lives of their fellow countrymen
He said it had been the mental shift the team needed after the disappointment of defeat in the opening match against New Zealand – a performance the Springboks turned on its head by becoming the first team to win the title after losing a pool match.
“The first All Black game was a great test run for us in terms of handling pressure,” said Erasmus.
“We were terrible in that week in terms of talking about things and getting tense – it was a terrible build up that told us a lot about how to play the play offs.
“We were quite honest with one another about that. We started to talk a lot about what is pressure.
“In South Africa, pressure is not having a job or if one of your close relatives is murdered. In South Africa there are a lot of problems, which is pressure. We started talking about things like that.
“Rugby shouldn’t be something that creates pressure; it should be something that creates hope. We have a privilege of giving hope – it’s not a burden.”
But Erasmus said that hope was not about words – it was about deeds.
“It’s not talking about hope, and saying you’ve got hope and sending a beautiful Tweet about hope,” he said.
“Hope is when you play well on Saturday and people watch the game and have a nice braaivleis and feel good afterwards.
“No matter if you’ve got political differences or religious differences or whatever; for those 80 minutes you agree with a lot of things you might disagree on.
“We just believed that this was not a burden, it’s our privilege and the moment you see it in that way it becomes a helluva privilege to try and fix those things.
“The moment you see it in that way it becomes a helluva privilege. We started working towards that; and that’s how we saw this whole World Cup campaign.”
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi said it was hard to describe his emotions when he lifted the trophy: “I honestly can’t explain how I was feeling at that time,” he said.
“But to see the joy in my team mates faces that was the best thing for me because I know how hard they have worked and how hard the coaches have worked.
“The way we played was because we wanted to say thank you to our coach who came in and changed a lot – on the way that we saw rugby – and I’m really grateful that we could do this for him and the coaching staff and everyone in the management.”
Kolisi also said that the team had been inspired by the support from South Africa.
“I have never seen such support from our people back at home and I honestly don’t think we could have done it without them,” he said.
“The videos they sent of people coming together, it was really beautiful for us to see. I really don’t think I can say any more.”
Kolisi said the key change for the team on their journey to the title was the first meeting at the start of the 2018 season.
“From the very first meeting in Joburg, Coach Rassie was very straightforward,” said Kolisi.
“He said we were getting quite a lot of money and doing lots of things off the field, but we didn’t make rugby the main thing.
“He told us straight; it has to change, the shift has to come, rugby is more important; the Springboks are more important than our personal goals and as soon as the team does well good things will come.
“There are so many people who spend their last salary to come and see us play. They want to see us give our best on and off the field. Understanding that was the change of mindset and we started working hard; a lot of us got off social media to make sure we put our hearts and souls into it on and we challenged each other.”
The results of that challenge were a third Rugby World Cup victory.