Solid as a Bok
Solid as a BokSHARE
Junior Springbok coach Dawie Theron believes the key to his team's World Championship victory was the way they hardened up under pressure.
Theron was given unprecedented backing by SARU to ensure that his team performed well on home soil, so when they lost their opening game against Ireland with a feeble display in the set-pieces the pressure was on as they were fighting to stay in the tournament.
They responded by improving in every game after that, culminating in a victory over the defending champions on the back of a convincing set-piece performance in front of a packed crowd of 35 000 at Newlands, becoming the first team other than New Zealand to win the title.
Theron said that the key to the turnaround was how the team had drawn together under pressure.
"Words can't describe the feeling. One can see what winning this title meant to the guys, especially after that Ireland loss in our first game when they were burdened with the weight of the nation's expectations on their shoulders.
"Under pressure two things can happen either you scatter apart, or the heat of the moment causes you to gel and you become like a rock and that's what happened," he said.
The former Bok prop said that the victory is his best achievement in the game.
"It's unbelievable. It's the best rugby experience of my life and I've played for the Springboks in 30 Tests but this is very special," he said.
Theron said that the final had been a typical battle between the two nations who both play with uncompromising physicality, and added that the victory and the support for the team indicates a bright future for Springbok rugby.
"It was a wonderful show of typical SA, New Zealand rivalry, and in the first half all the big hits came from them. Our guys came out in the second half and really stood up to the physical contest and there were big hits coming in from our side.
"It was tremendous to see how the guys responded. I can imagine that if these guys stay together, as well as those who couldn't play because of injury, there will be a special era of Springbok rugby ahead.
"The crowd must have been over 35,000 and judging by their support one can say Springbok rugby is alive," he said.
The junior Bok boss was particularly pleased with his team's driving play, which forced the dangerous Baby Blacks onto the back foot.
"Our driving play was exceptional and forced New Zealand to concede penalties. That kept us in the game and gave us a lot of energy. It was a matter of converting the pressure into points and we did that with two great tries in the second half," he said.
It was a first tournament win and final for the Junior Boks in the current age group format and it was fitting that it was achieved on home soil and in front of passionate South African fans, Theron said.
"I said from the start that this was positive pressure. The support from the public was unbelievable and the knowledge that Newlands was sold out was enough motivation for our players not to disappoint," he said.