Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Homesport‘Never pressure’ for reigning champions South Africa against Scotland

‘Never pressure’ for reigning champions South Africa against Scotland

MARSEILLE – South Africa captain Siya Kolisi insists the Springboks are under no pressure as they kick off the defence of their Rugby World Cup title against a resurgent Scotland in Marseille on Sunday.

The 32-year-old loose forward led the South Africans to a memorable victory four years ago in Japan, but this time around the champions face a much trickier pool stage.

The timing of the draw for the tournament, in December 2020, has been criticised because of how much rugby’s global landscape has shifted since then.

It means three of the top five teams in the world will face off in Pool B – top-ranked Ireland, South Africa (second) and Scotland (fifth). All three teams are in good form, not least the Boks, who posted a record 35-7 victory over New Zealand in their final warm-up match.

But Kolisi said there is no pressure in matches, even at the 2019 final, when South Africa hammered England 32-12.

“It’s never pressure. We speak about it bluntly and honestly,” said the first black African captain of the Boks.

He added that then-coach Rassie Erasmus, now director of rugby after Jacques Nienaber was promoted to head coach, “spoke to us before the 2019 final about what pressure is and how much an honour and a privilege we have because we’re doing what we love”.

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“I will never forget when we won in Japan, it was special, it felt great. And when we landed in Johannesburg – I’m actually getting goosebumps – I’ve never seen anything like that,” Kolisi said.

“The airport was, I think, under emergency because everybody left their working stations, they just wanted to see us!

“(Rather than pressure from high expectations), that is the kind of energy that drives us, the kind that reminds us who we’re doing it for and why we’re doing it.”

Coach Nienaber, who made four run-on changes to the side who dismantled the All Blacks in August – including starts for winger Cheslin Kolbe and No. 8 Jasper Wiese – was under no illusions about what lay ahead for his team – knock-out rugby from the off.

Scotland, he said, are a “quality rugby side”.

“They deserve being ranked fifth in the world. Their performances over the last year, year-and-a-half have been consistent against big teams,” he added.

“It will be a proper test match. We’re playing quarter-final knockout rugby from day one.”

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After pushing New Zealand close in the November internationals, Scotland finished third in the Six Nations and also become one of the few teams to have beaten France in recent years, running out 25-21 victors in a warm-up game.

“All the teams have improved since 2019 but World Cups are a bit different,” maintained Nienaber.

“You must have the ability to score points, whereas in 2019 you could grind it out with a good defence, a good kicking game, a solid set-piece.”

Scotland, with the mercurial Finn Russell pulling the strings from fly-half and former Wallaby Jack Dempsey preferred at No. 8 to Matt Fagerson, need to deliver their “most complete game”, coach Gregor Townsend said.

But he was unwilling to dwell too long on the Scots being dubbed the underdogs.

“It’s something we did mention when we played France away. We had nothing to lose in that game… and for a lot of that game we did that and we almost came away with a win,” he said of a narrow 30-27 warm-up loss in Saint-Etienne, which came after their 25-21 home win.

“We need the mindset that we can believe we can win, that we’ve got to put the foot down and keep playing and keep doing the things that got us ahead.

“You’ve just got to balance that underdog spirit with that mindset that you’re here to win.”

Scotland lock Grant Gilchrist said the team being labelled underdogs “suits the Scottish psyche”, adding: “We like to kind of be the underdog and to show that fighting spirit.

“When people write us off it’s when we bring the best of us.” AFP, REUTERS

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