“They play the game we all want to play, they have the support and culture many teams kill for.”
Former Wallabies wing David Campese has emphatically hit back at suggestions that Rassie Erasmus and the Springboks are unlikeable.
The Springboks sent South Africa into wild celebrations countrywide when they beat New Zealand in the World Cup final in France to win the tournament for the fourth time in their history a few weeks ago.
A heroes’ welcome awaited the players and management when they returned to South Africa, with hundreds of thousands of people gathering to get a sight of the Webb Ellis Cup during the week-long trophy tour.
However, the Springboks’ triumph has been less warmly received in other parts of the world, where there have been suggestions that the seven-one bench split they employed in the final is not safe. There has also been criticism of the Boks’ style of play.
In response, 1991 World Cup winner Campese told Planet Rugby that the critics don’t understand South Africa’s rugby culture.
‘Been through hell and back’
“It’s quite interesting when people make a claim like this. There was a lot of speculation after the World Cup and there were a lot of headlines, especially in New Zealand, about South Africa and if they’re destroying international rugby,” Campese said.
“I think if you’ve lived in South Africa from 2004 to 2018 as I did, then you realise the South Africans have been through hell and back in terms of what they’ve gone through socially and politically.
“When Rassie Erasmus became coach, his back story is compelling. He was watching the Springboks around 2017 or 2018 and he saw how dejected the South African supporters were.
“He said: ‘I don’t like this and we need to change it. Rugby unites our country and without that, our culture and our national identity suffers’. He said: ‘the fans are the country not the team, it’s our incredible fans and they deserve better’.”
“Are they killing rugby? Are they hell! They play the game we all want to play, they have the support and culture many teams kill for and their mental strength and self-belief defines their brands,” Campese added.
“They are a magnificent team, iconic in stature and their status as world champions is nothing more than their brilliance and fortitude deserves.”
This story first appeared on sarugby.co.za. It is republished here with permission.