IT’S time for the first Rugby World Cup whistle in the UK – and the Springboks say they are “coiled springs” who are “ready to run through brick walls” to win a historic third title.
The big question is whether they have the matching moves to make a statement of intent.
First it will be Japan in Brighton tomorrow at 5.45pm South African time, and later countries such as England, Australia and the mighty world champions, the All Blacks.
In what is the first match between South Africa and Japan, coach Heyneke Meyer has amassed the most experienced Springbok team in history (880 Test caps), eclipsing the previous most experienced side (836 caps), which played in the Boks’ last Rugby World Cup match against Australia in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2011.
No Bok supporter needs to be reminded of what happened on that fateful day, but while there has been criticism that Meyer is fielding another “Dad’s Army” – with former Bok prop Ollie le Roux reckoning the Boks are “past their prime” – there are in fact 16 players in the 31-man squad making their World Cup debuts.
The Boks have been in fine humour since arriving from a hectic conditioning programme in Durban and Johannesburg over the last month.
And while Meyer has said he wants his players to be champions “on and off the field” because of the way they conduct themselves, there were frowns on the heads of some of the players when they read the following description of themselves in the austere UK newspaperThe Times: “South Africa are likely to go home believing that we Brits are fey anaemics with a penchant for costume drama, while we think they are largely fatheaded tight-heads who enjoy killing animals.”
But not all Brits will be considering them “fatheads”.
Actions indeed speak louder than words, and yesterday 11 squad members gave up their day off from training to give back to the south coast seaside town of Eastbourne that has hosted them.
Morné Steyn, Damian de Allende and Frans Malherbe visited the local St Wilfred’s Hospice, where they distributed gifts to residents. Eben Etzebeth and Willie le Roux surprised schoolchildren at a local sevens tournament when they arrived to pose for pictures and mingle with the kids.
Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits and Rudy Paige, accompanied by assistant coaches Ricardo Loubscher, Pieter de Villiers, Louis Koen and Richie Gray, were special guests at a Rugby Legacy Banquet hosted by Eastbourne College, the Springboks’ training base.
Meyer said: “We’ve been very well received by the people of Eastbourne, and to get involved in these events is a small token of thanks to the people for their wonderful hospitality.”
The official welcoming ceremony was a special event and locals had embraced them everywhere they had visited.
The World Cup kicks off tonight when England host Fiji at Twickenham (9pm South African time).