President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa (C) lifts the Webb Ellis Cup while standing next to South Africa’s flanker and captain Siya Kolisi on the podium after South Africa won the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on October 28, 2023. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)
(AFP) – South Africa edged New Zealand 12-11 to claim their record fourth Rugby World Cup, but the future for the Springboks looks problematical with coaches and leading players set to leave after the historic success.
Crafty head coach Jacques Nienaber will depart for Irish province Leinster and highly-rated assistant Felix Jones will head to England, meaning director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will be without two of his lieutenants from the two World Cup victories.
Erasmus and Nienaber were appointed in 2018 with the Springboks in ruins and the pair have taken the side to two Webb Ellis trophies in the four years.
“The boss, he gave everything he could,” Springboks full-back Damian Willemse said of Nienaber after the All Blacks win.
“He brought us from number six, seven in the world when everyone was writing us off, saying ‘the Springboks weren’t good enough’. People were burning national jerseys.
“We’ll send him away with our blessings. He’s done everything he could have.”
This campaign has been littered with revolutionary coaching ideas from Erasmus and Nienaber.
They were criticised for naming too many scrum-halves in their World Cup squad, they placed seven forwards instead of the traditional five or six on their bench, and used substitutes in the knock-out wins over France and England in a perfect manner.
They even played their final five games of the competition with just one specialist hooker available.
“They always take these calculated risks,” Willemse said.
“They never go into a situation or make a decision without thinking, they debate for hours and hours.”
Among the players, former Springbok back-rower Erasmus will have a very different squad to deal with over the next World Cup cycle.
All of the starting forward pack against the All Blacks will be 35 or older by the time the tournament starts in Australia.
Veteran No 8 Duane Vermeulen is set to retire while emblematic captain and flanker Siya Kolisi and player-of-the-match Pieter-Steph du Toit are unlikely to be at the peak of their powers in four years’ time.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” said fly-half Handre Pollard, who kicked four penalties in the final.
“There are a few guys we know about, actually a lot of guys that are going to be around for a while.
“We’re going to be a lot older going forward,” the 29-year-old added.
– ‘Hats off to Willie’ –
Full-back Willie Le Roux turned 34 in August and saw his role in the squad change from the triumph in Japan, and faces a challenge to feature in Australia.
Willemse, 25, was preferred as the starter in the No 15 jersey in France, as Erasmus started to prepare for the future.
“I don’t think there’s anyone I would have liked to learn about Test rugby from,” Willemse said.
“What he’s done for South African rugby in the last decade, I don’t think any backline player will be able to top that.
“I take my hat off to Willie.”
Of the 35 players called up by Nienaber during the World Cup only Willemse, scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse and winger Canan Moodie are aged 25 or younger.
Fly-half Manie Libbok, who was the first-choice playmaker until Pollard took over the reins for the final, turned 26 in July but Pollard remained positive about what is to come.
“I think we have a great core of young guys coming through, Canan Moodie, Manie Libbok, it’s unbelievable the talent we have in some positions,” Pollard said.
“It’s really going to be exciting if we can transition into the next four years.
“The young guys have so much experience having been here, it’s going to be massive going forward,” he added.
© Agence France-Presse