South Africa’s shock victory over New Zealand in Wellington has come at the perfect time for rugby globally as the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2019 enters its final year.
That’s the belief of World Cup-winning coach Jake White as he watches on from Japan, where the excitement continues to build ahead of the global showpiece’s historic entry into Asia.
Thursday, Sep. 20 marks the one-year countdown to the tournament’s opening fixture between Japan and Russia at Tokyo Stadium.
The day after that game, New Zealand and South Africa meet in arguably the biggest pool match in Rugby World Cup history to date. It may have not looked that way when the pools were drawn this time last year, but White says the Pool B encounter has blockbuster status once again following the Springboks’ 36-34 victory in the Rugby Championship Test at Westpac Stadium last Saturday.
“I’m obviously extremely proud that they could hang on at the end there,” White said of the Springboks’ triumph.
“I think a lot of people thought where they’d done all the hard yards and probably weren’t going to be strong enough to hang on, just because you look at the history of what’s happened in the past.
“In my very first game in New Zealand [as Springboks coach], Doug Howlett scored almost on the hooter to win the game against us as well. So for me, there was probably an added moment of déjà vu watching that thing unfold.
“But I’m extremely proud, and it’s great to see that the Springboks have not only put some kudos into the Rugby Championship but also made the World Cup pool game next year, New Zealand vs. South Africa, a game that everyone’s going to watch with even more interest now.”
Having suffered a dour 23-18 defeat by Australia seven days earlier, few people gave South Africa any hope of upsetting the All Blacks; particularly given the fact they hadn’t defeated New Zealand in New Zealand since 2009.
But White said there was clear evidence of coach Rassie Erasmus’ plan a week earlier, his team selections to face the Wallabies pointing to what was the more significant prize.
John Goliath takes a closer look at the Springboks’ half-back situation following their famous win over the All Blacks.
“Looking at the two teams that Rassie picked, there’s no doubt that he did target the All Black game,” White told ESPN.
“There was also talk that he was going to get Duane Vermeulen over there for that game as well, which was very well documented, and he’s come out post game and said that’s the game they targeted.
“There’s no doubt that what he did against the Wallabies the week before by rotating his squad and keeping some of the players relatively fresh for the All Black game worked in his favour. So, I wouldn’t say anyone saw that coming. But credit to him [Erasmus] because he did give himself a fair crack at making sure whatever he needed in the tank he got out of that team based on the fact that he was prepared to take risks the week before.”
With one year to go until the Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan, our writers take a look through each of the pools and decide where it will all be won and lost in 2019.
In exactly a year’s time, World Rugby can say it has grown up. This time next year Japan will turn on one of the great Rugby World Cups, albeit eight years later than it should have, Greg Growden writes.
World Cup-winning coach Jake White would consider any opportunity to coach a top-tier contender such as the Wallabies, but says he can’t understand the crisis narrative currently emanating out of Australia.
On the whole, White likes what he’s seen from Erasmus as Springboks coach thus far.
“It’s always difficult when you’ve coached the Springbok team because the expectations are obviously massive and to be fair to him he has come out and said he needs to build for the World Cup,” White says of Erasmus.
“And if you look at what he’s achieved in a short space of time — having beaten England who at that stage were No. 2 in the world, and now New Zealand, No. 1 in the world — it’s not a bad hit-out in the first sort of seven Test matches in your tenure.
“I think that, and I’ve said it before, that you need to start winning games against those big nations; you need to start winning games against New Zealand and Australia if you want to win the World Cup, and he seems to be ticking those boxes.”
World Rugby administrators and some of the game’s leading coaches have been in Japan this week as part of the countdown celebrations, the Test bosses taking the chance to review their World Cup bases and training facilities.
And White, who is preparing for his second season with Top League club Toyota Verblitz, can feel a little extra excitement.
John Goliath discusses what the Springboks’ win over the All Blacks means to the team leading up to next year’s World Cup.
“Yeah they [the Japanese people] have been [excited] and not just because of this last week; they have since I got here been speaking about the World Cup,” White told ESPN. “For them, as a nation, it’s big for them to host it as well; it’s not just the rugby people, it’s everyone talking about it.
“And I think there’s a little bit more of a buzz this week because a lot of the international coaches have arrived and have come to look at the facilities. A couple of coaches have come to [the Toyota Verblitz] facility to have a look at our field and our clubhouse etc. and we would be no different to the other clubhouses around Japan.
“I’m sure that sort of thing; the hype will get bigger and bigger as we get closer to kick-off next year.”