Lood de Jager during the South African national rugby team training session at Arcs Urayasu Park on September 16, 2019 in Urayasu, Japan. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/STEVE HAAG
Lood de Jager during the South African national rugby team training session at Arcs Urayasu Park on September 16, 2019 in Urayasu, Japan. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/STEVE HAAG

The marked characteristic of the current Springboks team is an unflinching clarity of focus and purpose‚ which has left them as the only undefeated tier-one nation going into the Rugby World Cup.

The tournament‚ which starts on Friday‚ has seen all the contenders lose at least once in 2019. The Boks’ worst result has been a 16-16 draw against the All Blacks in Wellington.

The old rivals meet in their pool B opener in Yokohama on Saturday in the most anticipated match of the entire group phase. Rassie Erasmus’s Boks go into the match high on confidence borne from good results and consistently high quality performances.

Throughout the truncated Rugby Championships‚ which the Boks won‚ Erasmus deployed two distinctly different sides yet both produced high-quality performances with positive results.

It is something that has impressed former Bok skipper Jean de Villiers‚ who led the team at the World Cup in 2015 before injury ended his tournament against Samoa in game two.

“The biggest things I’ve noticed about the Boks this year are a clear understanding of what they are trying to do and the impressive execution of the strategy‚” De Villiers said.

“They are a lot closer to bringing those two aspects together and it doesn’t matter who the players are. When they were changing sides during the Rugby Championship‚ it didn’t matter who played‚ they understood their roles and executed them.

“That obviously leads to consistency in performance and hopefully of results too.”

The obvious question is how did Erasmus manage to create this depth and understanding off a low base after two poor years in 2016 and 2017?

“We are seeing the value of the alignment camps Rassie has had with the players over the past 18 months coming to the fore now‚” De Villiers said.

“A wide group of players have been exposed to what the coach wants both from individuals‚ and collectively. Even if they aren’t playing‚ a big group of players understand the strategy and the plan. So the Boks have developed depth in terms of a group of players who understand the strategy and how to execute it. What we don’t have is depth in terms of Test match experience.

“The first-choice team has that experience but they are a little short of it throughout the squad. But there is no way to develop that quickly‚ which is why the likes of Francois Louw‚ Frans Steyn and Schalk Brits are so important to this squad.”

The Boks have been narrowing their focus in Tokyo this week as the All Blacks clash comes into view. There is little the two sides don’t know about each other.

Flank and current SA player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit credited a new mindset to reducing the gap between New Zealand and SA.

Monday was two years to the day since SA lost 57-0 to New Zealand in Hamilton.

“We made a lot of mistakes in the past‚” Du Toit said from Tokyo. “But at the moment we are a lot more professional and trying to execute and better ourselves as individuals. That’s a massive focus for us; if the individual is better‚ then the team will be better.”

The team was clear on their strategy for the pool B clash, he said. “We have to focus on what makes us strong. We know what we have to do. We have done some good research on where we can exploit their weaknesses and I am sure they will have done the same with us.”

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