South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus provided an inspirational insight into how a sense of perspective helped his side handle pressure on their way to Rugby World Cup glory.
The Springboks came into the final as underdogs but overpowered England to secure a comprehensive 32-12 win and earn a record-equalling third world title.
In the lead-up to Saturday’s decider in Yokohama, much focus centred on what it would mean for Boks skipper Siya Kolisi – the first black captain of his country – to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup aloft.
Asked how South Africa kept their composure despite knowing the potential impact a victory could make, Erasmus delivered a detailed and moving response.
“This was my first World Cup as a coach and I think actually the first All Black game [a pool match South Africa lost 23-13] was a great test run for us in terms of handling pressure,” he said.
“We were terrible that week, the way we were tense and talking about things. The whole week was just a terrible build-up for that pool game and that taught us a lot about how to handle the quarter-final, semi-final and so on. But overall, we started talking about what pressure is.
“In South Africa, pressure is not having a job. Pressure is one of your close relatives being murdered. In South Africa there is a lot of problems, which is pressure, and we started talking about things like that. And rugby shouldn’t be something that creates pressure. Rugby should be something that creates hope.
“Rugby shouldn’t be something that creates pressure on you, it should be something that creates hope”
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) November 2, 2019
“We started talking about how we’ve got a privilege of giving people hope, not a burden of giving people hope. But hope is not talking about hope and saying you’ve got hope and tweeting a beautiful tweet and things like that. Hope is when you play well and people watch the game on the Saturday … and feel good afterwards.
“No matter your political differences or religious differences or whatever, for those 80 minutes you agree with a lot of things when you normally disagree. We just started believing in that and saying that is not our responsibility, that’s our privilege to try and fix those things.
“And the moment you see it that way, it becomes a hell of a privilege and you start working towards that. I think that is the way we tackled this whole World Cup campaign. I hope that answers your question.”
— Springboks (@Springboks) November 2, 2019
Erasmus also highlighted the incredible journey of Kolisi, who grew up in deep poverty and watched South Africa’s 2007 World Cup win in a township tavern as he did not have a TV at home.
Asked to describe Kolisi, Erasmus said: “It’s easy to talk about going through hard times and struggling to get opportunities where other people do, but I think it’s tough to tell people that there were days when I didn’t have food, there were days when I didn’t have a lift to go to school, or I couldn’t go to school or I didn’t have shoes to wear.
“The moment you hear that a lot, you almost get used to that, as a team-mate or as a rugby supporter or anybody, maybe you guys sitting here. Maybe you hear that a lot.
“But when you sit down and you think about it clearly – that there was a stage when Siya went through stuff like that, where he didn’t physically have food, or he didn’t have shoes to wear or he couldn’t get to school. And then you think here he sits as a captain and he led South Africa to hold this cup.
“I think that should sum up what Siya is.”
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