England’s semi appearance may be object of fun, but Boks deadly serious about showing respect
Many people, mostly from French and Irish backgrounds, are still lamenting the fact that England are in the World Cup semis while their teams are out of the tournament.
There is a meme doing the rounds of various objects stuck in impossible places. A car, a horse and another car are all in positions that raise the question of how on earth they got into those situations at all.
The fourth picture in the meme, is of England Rugby’s red rose emblem and the caption for Rugby World Cup 2023 semi-final.
It’s amusing because nothing this England side has produced in recent months, even years, remotely resembles a side capable of winning the World Cup. Yet here they are, in the semis, standing in the Springboks’ way of making the final for a fourth time and in consecutive tournaments.
While poking fun at England is amusing on social media, the reality is that they will present a formidable challenge to the Springboks, which is exactly why South African players and management have refused to join the pile-on.
“Obviously we don’t see it that way because we know how good England are, how they play in World Cups, and the team has changed and we’ve seen how hard they work,” Bok skipper Siya Kolisi said.
“It doesn’t matter who we are playing. We need to get through this game. In the World Cup, we have seen teams who are not in the top 10 beating teams in the top 10 so it would be silly to think like that. We know exactly what they are going to bring and the motivation they have.”
One of the travelling English media pack pointed out that England believe they are ‘hated’ and have circled the laager, comfortable with an ‘us against them’ mentality. It certainly makes them dangerous.
“As for people hating them, I don’t worry about that. That’s nothing to do with me,” Kolisi said. “Everyone we play, we just want to show who we are as a team. On the field they are a great team, they have improved a lot and it’s always good to play against them, because it doesn’t happen too often.
“The rivalry [with England] has been around long before my time. It’s a big country, a big team, it’s always special to play against them at Twickenham. They play hard,” Kolisi said.
“Even after the World Cup final, we lost the next game [27-26 at Twickenham in November 2021] so it’s always tough to play against them. We don’t play them all the time, it’s rare that we get to play them so it’s always a big game.”
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber was also not buying into the narrative that all the Boks have to do is arrive in Saint-Denis on Saturday, jog around for 80 minutes, et voila!, they’ll be in the World Cup final.
“They [England] have a completely new coaching team and I think coach Steve [Borthwick] has embedded a new game model that was different to the previous one under Eddie [Jones],” Nienaber said.
“Like anything, it takes some time to get used to and comfortable. I think the more time they have spent together, the more comfortable they are with it.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup News Hub
“England went into the previous World Cup semi-final against New Zealand probably being the underdog [they won it 19-7].
“The reality is we’re facing a good England side. We don’t look at history but we know that where we were in 2019, any team can beat any team on the day. This game is not bigger than the game against France and it’s not bigger than the World Cup final. If you lose this game, you are out, so there is everything to gain.”
And as for England being hated? Well, not by Nienaber and his team.
“With us having players in England, we go and visit our players, like Andre Esterhuizen at Harlequins, or Vincent Koch when he was at Saracens. I must say we have always been met with open arms, like when we went to Sale to see the Du Preez brothers and Faf [De Klerk].
“There hasn’t been one club who turned us away, they have always welcomed us. So, from a ‘hatred’ point of view, definitely not from our side. We have a good working relationship [with the English clubs], they are really open. They don’t deny us access under the regulations.”
Etzebeth demands excellence
As the team’s unofficial hard man, lock Eben Etzebeth has called for full focus and commitment from his team.
“For us, we approach it as being a World Cup semi-final. All four teams left have got two more hurdles before they can claim the trophy,” Etzebeth said.
“That’s more than enough motivation to not let your form or performance dip. It’s the biggest prize in rugby you can win.
“We know how physically intense the game was against France. But it’s in the past. Nobody can write about you about what’s happened in the past. It’s about this coming Saturday against England and we’ll be focused on that.
“We each have a job to drive standards. That’s what makes it so much easier for the coaches.
“A guy like Siya (Kolisi) makes that easier. It’s not up to the captain to drive standards, it’s up to every individual player. That’s the common goal of the whole squad.”
Etzebeth also dismissed any suggestions that the Boks simply need to arrive to win, especially as England might be driven by motivation from losing the 2019 final 32-12 to the Boks.
“You always want to respond after a setback. It was a big one, a World Cup final. We know they will still be thinking about that one,” Etzebeth said.
“But it’s a World Cup semi for us. It’s two more hurdles. It’s very important to get through that last hurdle so we’ll be focused on that. We know how hard and aggressively they will come at us on Saturday but we will go exactly the same fashion.”
Strap in. DM