Rassie Erasmus, the director of rugby for the Springboks, emphasized on Tuesday that South Africa’s focus is squarely on the Rugby World Cup semifinal matchup with England and that it would be disrespectful to consider a potential final matchup with New Zealand.
The All Blacks will play Argentina in the first semi-final on Friday after the Springboks defeated France 29-28 in the quarterfinals to establish themselves as strong favorites to advance to the October 28 final.
“Talk about the All Blacks will be disrespectful to England because they’re a massive speedbump for us to get over,” said Erasmus, who, before accepting his present role, led the Springboks to victory in Japan four years ago.
“England are unbeaten. They have stuck to their guns, (has coach Steve) Borthwick since he’s been appointed, and they kept believing in what they’re doing, they’re a team full of belief.
“They’ll be definitely hurting from last year when we beat them, but also the World Cup final in 2019 so they’ll be a very desperate team.
“Eyes are firmly on England at this stage,” Erasmus said of Borthwick’s team that beat the sole Tier II team in the quarter-finals, Fiji, by 30-24.
Flyhalf Handre Pollard, who steered South Africa to the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019 but was called up as an injury replacement for Malcolm Marx in France after recovering from his own calf injury, kicked 22 points in the 32-12 final victory over England.
But it was Manie Libbok who started the quarter-final alongside Cobus Reinach, while Pollard and Faf de Klerk were used as impact players from the bench.
Pollard said all four halfbacks, like the rest of the team, had become hardened to the glaring South African spotlight on their World Cup progression, but remained pragmatic about some of the players’ journeys to get where they are.
“It’s just the way we were brought up, we love it. It’s not always been easy for some guys in our squad growing up so when we get to this position, this point where there should be a lot of pressure on us, we refer back to it a lot,” the Leicester fly-half said.
“This is not really pressure, this is more privilege to be a part of these occasions.”
Pollard added: “Our game model and the way we play the game suits World Cups pretty well. We are comfortable in this environment and we have been under pressure off the field, growing up and we all know the stories that have come from the previous World Cups.
“We just enjoy it, we enjoy the pressure. It’s a privilege to have this pressure on our shoulders, playing for our country.”
By Garrin Lambley © Agence France-Presse