South Africa's 'unique brand' could topple England

Raj Mannick
Head of Sport
Faf de Klerk of South Africa kicks away from the scrum as Tomos Williams of Wales challenges during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Semi-Final. (Photo by Michael Steele/2019 Getty Images)

It’s been 12 years since South Africa brushed aside England in the World Cup Final, and the man who lifted the trophy for the Springboks in 2007 is confident of a repeat result.

Hooker John Smit led his side to glory in France over a decade ago and feels the way South Africa have approached each game in Japan is a recipe for success.

“One thing about this team is that they've been able to get as far as they have with a very unique way of playing and a very unique brand and a single mindedness, and I don't think that they would want to differ too far away from that,” Smit explained, speaking ahead of Saturday’s final.

“The nice thing about the squad is that they've got one of the guys that won it with us [in 2007] in Frans Steyn and he certainly would be telling them in a week like this all you’ve got to do is do what you've been doing to get to this point.”

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South Africa edged a gutsy Wales side in the semi-final, playing a very defensive but effective style of rugby and capitalising on opposition errors to pick up points off the boot.

Smit, speaking exclusively to Yahoo Sport UK, demands more of the same: “They'll be focusing on the way that they're playing and how they've got there, which is quite a brutal way up front with a big pack of forwards, and they need to do the same.”

John Smit was the last non-All Black to lift the Rugby World Cup. (Photo by David Davies - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

By contrast, England’s semi-final victory featured one of the all time great performances against the reigning champions and favourites, New Zealand. The 19-7 win from Eddie Jones’ men was a near faultless display and impressed Smit hugely.

“I haven't seen a game that good, or a performance that good, and it happened to be against what's been the best rugby team in the last 10 years. New Zealand, after losing to South Africa three times in around 2009, reinvented themselves and they've been ruling the world for over a decade, if not more.

And the way that England went about dismantling them by not giving them an inch... We actually don’t know if they [New Zealand] did or didn't rock up because they never had a chance from the first minute, with the fastest try ever in semi-final history, so it's a concern playing against England.”

Two very different approaches tactically, but the momentum both South Africa and England have gained over the last year and heading into the final is remarkably similar.

John Smit (second from left) stands with the Webb Ellis Cup he won in 2007. Also pictured, left to right: Keith Wood, Martin Johnson and Justin Marshall. (Photo by Heineken®).

Smit pinpoints the rise of his compatriots under manager Rassie Erasmus as a key factor to take them all the way.

“These guys have come from an extremely low base. I think we were ranked seventh or eighth in the world when Rassie [Erasmus] took over 18 months ago, and in 18 months he’s somehow put together the same group of guys into a quite competitive unit.

“Their mental journey was a lot different to where we [2007 South African side] were, but they’ve also escalated, accelerated and gained a momentum and mental confidence as well.”

Smit concluded: “I think you can see from being around them quite a bit, they enjoy each other's company, they enjoy winning, they like this new feeling of being successful. And that can be can be quite contagious.”

A contagious Springbok spirit coupled with a relentless and single-minded approach - it will take a performance to rival their own against the All Blacks if England are to secure a second Webb Ellis Cup.

John Smit was talking on behalf of HEINEKEN. HEINEKEN is a Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, and HEINEKEN’s relationship with World Rugby is one of the most recognisable and longest-standing partnerships in sport. The Rugby World Cup 2019 gives fans around the world an opportunity to engage with the tournament through Heineken’s ‘Universal Language of Rugby’ campaign. #HeinkenRugby


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