Rassie hits back after claim Springboks aren't worthy of being world's best

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Springbok Makazole Mapimpi celebrates with Faf de Klerk and Lukhanyo Am after scoring his team's first try during the 2019 Rugby World Cup final against England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Springbok Makazole Mapimpi celebrates with Faf de Klerk and Lukhanyo Am after scoring his team's first try during the 2019 Rugby World Cup final against England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

SA Rugby's director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has made a cheeky response to a claim that the Springboks aren't worthy of being the No 1-ranked team in world rugby.

The Springboks haven't played any Test rugby since beating England in the World Cup final in Japan on 2 November 2019.

The coronavirus wreaked havoc with the Test rugby calendar in 2020, but the despite their absence the Boks remain atop of the world rugby rankings.

An opinion piece on the Rugby Pass website suggested on Monday the notion that the Springboks were the world's best was "nothing more than an illusion".

"They are rightfully World Cup holders, but this era of Springboks rugby hasn't proven to the world they are anything but a good side who won the World Cup with a helpful schedule," rugby scribe Ben Smith wrote in the piece.

Erasmus, who has since stepped down as Bok head coach, did not take kindly to the suggestion and responded to the article on his official Twitter account: "This always made sense to me: A lion doesn't concern himself with the opinion of a sheep".

In the article, Smith hinted that the Boks were fortunate to win the World Cup.

Erasmus' charges became the first team ever to win the global showpiece by losing a game in the tournament itself. South Africa had gone down 23-13 to the All Blacks in the pool stages but beat Namibia (57-3), Italy (49-3) and Canada (66-7) to reach the knockout phase.

There they produced somewhat stuttering performances but still got the better of Japan in the quarter-finals (27-3) and Wales in the semi-finals (19-16), before thumping England 32-12 in the final.

"The first world champions to lose a game in the World Cup tournament and win it, after about a year of playing well. The last calendar year with a full slate of games against tier one opposition in 2018, the side finished with a 50 percent win rate," Smith added.

"They took their first Rugby Championship title in 10 years in a truncated version as they drew with New Zealand, beat Michael Cheika's downtrodden Wallabies and defeated Los Pumas. It was an easy layup when everyone's focus was on Japan."

Smith further questioned why the Springboks had not made efforts to play rugby last year, using Argentina - who stunned the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship in Australia - as an example of a team making significant effort to compete.

"Los Pumas, a squad ravaged by Covid-19 and forced to spend months away from family in the lead-up to the competition, achieved a slice of greatness by pulling off a historic win over the All Blacks against all odds.

"The challenge was enormous and the odds of success looked low, but they took on the challenge anyway like a fearless competitor. Where were the world champion Springboks when the lowly Pumas could front with no games since the Jaguares last played?

"Were they worried the shine of their world champion status would have rubbed off with a pasting at the hands of the All Blacks? Or worse, a loss to the Wallabies in Australia, where the Springboks have a horrendous record over the last 20 years?"

The Springboks, meanwhile, will finally get back to the Test arena when they host Georgia in two internationals in July.

It will be the first time Georgia tour these shores, and the first time the two countries duel since their only previous meeting at the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, when the Boks won 46-19.

It will also be new head coach Jacques Nienaber's first Test in charge after taking over from Erasmus last year.

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