Springboks: Don't mistake nerves for weakness

Siya Kolisi (Gallo Images)
Siya Kolisi (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - As the Springboks prepare for their World Cup departure on Friday, they do so in the knowledge that the South African rugby public believes again. 

The turnaround is quite remarkable. 

The Allister Coetzee era, which included a shocking loss to Italy in Florence in 2016 and not a whole lot to celebrate, saw the Boks slip down the world rankings to the point where they were not included in Pot 1 when the 2019 World Cup draw was made in May 2017. 

That poor form in the Coetzee years is ultimately the reason the Boks were drawn alongside the defending champion All Blacks for this year's showpiece, but not even that can derail the optimism currently surrounding this group. 

There is, for the first time in a long time, a belief that on their day the Boks are better than almost everyone and more than capable of knocking over New Zealand. 

When the squad was announced in Johannesburg on Monday, the press conference that followed with coach Rassie Erasmus and captain Siya Kolisi was revealing. 

"I'm really happy and excited, and I'm also really nervous ... I'm not going to lie about it," Kolisi said.

The significance of being South Africa's first black captain at a Rugby World Cup, given the role the 1995 edition of the tournament played in this country's unique history, is massive. 

Captaining the Boks on the grandest stage simply doesn't await somebody who grew up in a township like Zwide in the Eastern Cape. 

Yet, here Kolisi is, about to embark on a journey of a lifetime with the full backing of his coach, his peers and his fellow South Africans. 

The enormity of the task at hand cannot be understated, and when the Boks tackle the All Blacks in Yokohama on September 21 in their tournament opener, the whole country will be watching. 

The nerves are not only understandable, but expected. 

"I love it that people are talking about the Springboks and I love that people talk about our responsibility and expectations," Erasmus added. 

"I'm proud that people are talking about that again, and that's why it makes me nervous. There is expectation."

The coach and captain are both openly nervous about the journey that awaits. 

Even Frans Steyn, who is the only World Cup winner in the Bok squad, acknowledged on Monday that he gets nervous every time he plays for the Boks, more so now because he is aware that he doesn't have a lot of time left in Test rugby. 

Being open and honest about these feelings of anxiety heading into a World Cup should not be seen as a weakness, but rather an acknowledgment of the importance of the task at hand. 

This Springbok leadership group knows the pressures that come with representing a rugby mad country like South Africa, and they take it very seriously. 

It is refreshing. 

Too often we see captains and coaches heading into major tournaments across sporting codes with a forced confidence and a clear endeavour to come across as calm, composed and in control. 

It doesn't often work. 

By acknowledging the daunting nature of this tournament and what it means to South Africans, Erasmus and Kolisi make themselves more accessible to the public. We can buy into what they are saying, because we believe them. 

That has been one of the hallmarks of the Erasmus era. 

There has never been an effort to pull the wool over or to say the things that he thinks the public wants to hear. It has been an honest journey, from the very beginning up until now. 

The same goes with Kolisi, who has openly stated that he doesn't know everything and that he will always lean on his peers for advice when the going gets tough out on the pitch. 

Acknowledging that, in itself, is a sign of true leadership. 

There is no way of knowing what is going to happen in Japan. The Boks will make the quarter-finals, but beyond that anything goes. 

The thing about being nervous, though, is that it often brings out your best.

It is in those moments where you rely on everything you have experienced before to help you make the correct decisions and in the most productive way. 

Accepting that there is pressure is far better than pretending it doesn't exist, because when that pressure does inevitably rear its head, it helps to be prepared. 

The Boks, if nothing else, are prepared. 

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