Rassie Erasmus believes the hard lessons of defeat South Africa learned against Wales were central to their gruelling Rugby World Cup semi-final triumph.
Handre Pollard’s perfect goalkicking performance inspired the Springboks to a tense 19-16 victory on Saturday, ending a run of four consecutive losses to Warren Gatland’s men.
Far from preying on his players’ minds, Erasmus felt those experiences were part of the reason South Africa got over the line in Yokohama.
“Playing against them four times and knowing that they know how to close out games, we’ve learned our lessons,” he told a post-match news conference.
“Especially the Washington Test match [a 22-20 loss in the United States capital last year], we were ahead in the last few minutes and the way they clawed back and won… we certainly learned some lessons there.
“And the way they won the Six Nations, we certainly see they’re a team that strangles the life out of the opposition. We expected exactly that and that’s what we received the whole game.
“We had to match that the whole game. It probably wasn’t the best spectacle to watch and I guess the boys stuck to their guns and adapted to that.”
South Africa’s recent record against final opponents England offers greater reasons for optimism. Boks won a three-match home series in 2018 2-1 before slipping to a 12-11 loss at Twickenham last November and also won the 2007 World Cup final 15-6 in Paris.
Nevertheless, Erasmus knows England represent a formidable prospect if they are in the mood they were in as they scythed through New Zealand in this weekend’s other semi-final.
“We’ve played England four times in the last 18 months, it’s 2-2,” he said.
“We’re accustomed with the way they play. They’re obviously much better than when we last played them and you could see it the way they dismantled New Zealand.
“We think we’re in with a chance. I’m not 100 per cent sure that a World Cup final is going to be won by an expansive game plan with wonderful tries. It might be, I might be wrong. I think we’ll go the grind-it-out route.”
If that hints the tactical preparations are already largely taken care of, a weight of responsibility remains for whoever is responsible for Erasmus’ laundry.
“Every time since I started coaching, when I lose a match, I change my clothing,” he chuckled when the superstition surrounding a lucky white shirt that has been omnipresent on the road to the final was brought up.
“Last year I had to change quite a lot of clothing because we lost quite a lot. This year I only had to change it once.
“I’m hoping I can wear this until the end of the final. This is my lucky shirt so far.”
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