There’s no ‘I’ in team … How Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber redefined Springboks

Following back-to-back Rugby World Cup victories, a video of Eben Etzebeth addressing the team while wearing a gold medal around his neck has been making the rounds from the Springboks’ changing room at the Stade de France.

“No other team has done it the hard way like we have,” he says, his voice catching. We are the best rugby team in the sport’s existence.

Etzebeth was the only South African named in the tournament’s Dream Team, announced the following evening at the World Rugby Awards in Paris. There were four New Zealanders, five Frenchmen, five Irishmen, and one lone Springbok in it.

It makes sense that South Africans were taken aback, but in my opinion, it was a disparaging comment.

If you look at that Dream Team, each one of those players deserves his place. I can’t find a convincing argument for any Bok to replace those guys.

If the Springboks didn’t always have the best players, then how did they win the World Cup? They had the best TEAM, is the explanation. Together, the Boks are far more than the sum of their individual parts.

The spirit, belief, courage, and resilience of the 23 players serve as the superglue that keeps them together during a match.

The Boks are without a doubt the greatest team in the world, but are they the greatest team in history as well?

They are the best team in World Cup history, I daresay—though it is almost impossible to say. It then becomes limited to the teams that have competed in the World Cup since its start in 1987.

And the only team that could challenge the current Boks following their consecutive victories is Richie McCaw’s All Blacks, who did so in 2011 and 2015.

Although they had a relatively easy ride through the tournament, that team destroyed Australia in the championship match.

The All Blacks defeated the Boks in a pool match in 2019, but they proceeded to the final with relative ease.

But this was hardly the case this year. Apart from Romania in a Pool B game, the Boks played seven brutal games. In their pool, they had the No 1 and No 5-ranked teams in the world in Ireland and Scotland

Tonga, while not overly skilled, were physically tough – several Boks said it was their toughest game from a sore body point of view

The Boks lost narrowly to the best Ireland team of all time.

In the quarter-finals, the Boks encountered another best-ever team, France.

Little wonder they were out on their feet when a week later they played a semi-final against an England team that were able to play their best game in four years, because they had had an easy run.

But it is not just the bloody-mindedness that the Boks showed in adversity. They were also the best-coached team in France.

How funny it is now that for so long, the Springboks were viewed by some critics as the dumbest team in world rugby.

They were laughed at for their dinosaur approach to the game, and rightly so.

Compare this to the innovation they have shown in recent years.

Which other squad would have substituted a flyhalf for a hooker? Having to play a final with Deon Fourie at hooker for the majority of the game would not have been taken on by any other team.

Neither team was afraid to take bold decisions, such as going for a 7-1 split on the bench.

The definition of a replacement has been redefined by Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus. Being on the bench does not make you second-best; rather, it highlights your importance in the larger scheme of things.

After just thirty minutes, what other coaching staff would have the guts to execute a flyhalf? Furthermore, Manie Libbok remained unblinking for the next week.

The Boks have such a close-knit squad that there are no egos. They can persevere through difficult games because of this.

To reiterate, because of the work they do off the field, the Boks are much more than the sum of their parts.

Lastly, Siya Kolisi, a fantastic human being, leads them brilliantly. Would that he could stand for election in the upcoming elections.

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