Springboks ready for anything as clash No 99 against All Blacks looms
A busy few days of official welcome and World Cup pomp and ceremony could have been a distraction for the Springboks‚ but having been in Japan for two weeks‚ they are on track with their preparations.
Meticulous coach Rassie Erasmus knew that as the tournament drew nearer‚ the external demands would grow.
Arriving 10 days earlier than their opening-match opponents, New Zealand‚ might yet be the smartest move Erasmus has made. The Boks have acclimatised‚ not only to the weather but also the quirks and foibles of Japan’s culture.
They are as ready as they can be to face an opponent they know well at a venue that is neutral territory for both.
Despite 98 previous clashes against the All Blacks‚ the two sides have only met on neutral territory three times. All those encounters have been at World Cups with the Boks winning the bronze medal match 22-18 in Cardiff in 1999.
The All Blacks won the quarterfinal 29-9 in Melbourne in 2003 and most recently a Dan Carter drop goal separated the sides in the 2015 semifinal in London that New Zealand won 20-18.
At an official welcoming ceremony at the weekend‚ captain Siya Kolisi was in prime ambassadorial mode. He has not put a foot wrong in cultural exchanges and continues to win friends wherever he and his squad go.
“This may be our official welcoming ceremony but we have been here for 14 days and we have been made to feel welcome every single day‚” Kolisi said. “The kindness and hospitality shown by the Japanese people has been amazing and I am sure we are in for an unforgettable Rugby World Cup.”
The players are ready for all eventualities on the field with head of athletic performance Aled Walters unfazed by what conditions the squad might encounter in Yokohama against the All Blacks on Saturday.
“I don’t really mind what conditions will be like on match day‚” Walters said. “We’ve had two good weeks of training here in Japan, the purpose of which was to get in some proper training in tough conditions‚ which is why we purposefully trained in the hottest part of the day to really get the benefit. Whether it’s 20 degrees or 30 degrees at the weekend I don’t mind; we just have to embrace it mentally.
“The players have been through the worst we can expect, so for that reason I think we have had a huge platform of preparation. We’ve been lucky to have had that time to really get used to the conditions.”
Walters confirmed reports that the players had shed kilograms in training sessions. But the Boks had factored the likelihood into their planning.
“I wouldn’t say it was good or bad — it’s just what happens in these conditions‚” he said. “In a relatively light training session last week‚ Duane [Vermeulen] lost three kilos, and it was raining, so that’s again something that we’ve become used to.
“Our dietitian is all over our hydration and nutrition protocols, which are essential and that are in place so the boys can’t be slacking off in their physical condition. The whole strategy has been in place for the past two weeks and the hydration plan has become a habit for the players. They’re mindful that in the morning before we do anything they monitor their indicators.
“The food might have been a worry before we came — because it was coming into the unknown — but it has been excellent and the fuelling and the refuelling has been easy when you’re training hard in these conditions.
“World Rugby has done a great job in that the chefs at the hotels are well prepared in what the majority of teams probably want anyway — it’s exactly like we would get at home.
“Last week we were in Kagoshima and we got to experience some great Japanese food as well and that’s the thing you have to embrace and enjoy — what’s different about the World Cup. It’s one of the benefits of coming out here for the tournament. It has been great,” Walters said.