KOBE, Japan – South Africa are not quite where coach Rassie Erasmus wants them to be heading into the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals next week, he said on Friday, but they are training under pressure to replicate knockout rugby.
South Africa have finished runners-up in Pool B after they lost 23-13 to the All Blacks in their opening game in Yokohama on Sept. 21.
After that loss, the Springboks cantered through their other three pool matches, resoundingly beating Namibia 57-3, Italy 49-3 and Canada 66-7, but Erasmus is still not quite happy.
“I wouldn’t say form-wise we are exactly where we want to be. We are trying to improve every week,” he told reporters in Kobe.
“After the New Zealand game, we try not to look at the scoreboard, and really tried to work on things that we knew would be important come the quarter-finals,” he said.
“Some things were good, some things were not as great. Bits and pieces, we are almost there, and hopefully we will really hit our straps in the quarter-final.”
The Springboks have no idea who they will meet on Oct. 20 at Tokyo Stadium, as the winner of Pool A will only be decided this weekend.
Erasmus, however, was convinced there was only so much work South Africa could do in terms of their physical preparation.
“I don’t think you can get much fitter, faster, quicker or tougher physically in the next three weeks,” he said.
“A lot of it, I believe, is mental – it’s upstairs.”
“It’s a lot to do with (asking) ‘how do you handle pressure?’ What is pressure?, and ‘how can you transfer the pressure from your team onto them?’ And there, a lot of things play a role,” Erasmus explained.
“If you play Japan, you’ve got a lot of pressure because it’s a home crowd,” he continued.
To cope with that pressure, Erasmus added that they had been trying to put the players in scenarios they were uncomfortable with in training.
“We have spoken a lot about role-playing with the things we are struggling with on the field (and) we are putting players in specific situations to try to overcome those things,” he said.
“It definitely didn’t work in the New Zealand game but we took our lessons out of that one and, so far, it’s been going better.”
“There have been glimpses in all the departments that we are almost there, but we haven’t put together a complete performance together in total.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Toyota City; Editing by Karishma Singh)