After a bitterly disappointing loss to the Brave Blossoms in their opening game of Rugby World Cup 2015, the Springboks could no afford no more slip-ups and needed to really up their game.
Next up on the schedule was a trip to Birmingham and a game against Samoa, a team the Boks has played in three previous World Cups. Games against Samoa are always bruising affairs and we were hoping not just for a good win but a win without any serious injuries.
The Boks simply had to deliver from here on in and they did, looking much sharper and much more ‘up for it’. It looked like being another long afternoon for the Springboks, though, when Mike Stanley sent over two penalties to give Samoa an early 6-3 lead but a JP Pietersen intercept try after 15 minutes sent the Springboks on their way. The Springboks ran out comfortable 46-6 winners and their campaign was back on track.
Although, as feared, there were injuries after the game, the biggest being captain Jean de Villiers who it would turn out had broken his jaw.
As always, there was great pre and post match banter and we met awesome people on both sides of the field. We also had a core group of us who were following the boys around and that made it even more special and fun.
Next up on the schedule was a visit up to St James Park in Newcastle to take on the Scots. This was expected to be our toughest game and the Springboks needed to maintain winnings ways.
That they did, sweeping aside the Scots 34 – 16. This was a far better performance from the Springboks, built on a very impressive forward display led by young locks Eben Etzebeth and Loudewyk de Jager. After scoring six tries against Samoa, the Springboks scored another three here (courtesy of Schalk Burger, JP Pietersen and Bryan Haban) and momentum was building. Though the bitter taste of the Japanese loss was still very much there.
It was great to visit the stadium too though you knew it us an old stadium by the view. Unlike newer stadia where you have an amazing view regardless of where you’re sitting, sitting way back at St James Park meant we had a roof obstructing the scoreboard! Nevertheless, it was a super fun day out and I was very pleased with my decision to jump on a late night bus – while an overnight bus ride is never great, it beats sleeping on a floor and meant I in my won bed by 8am the next day!
Our final pool game required no travel whatsoever with the boys playing on our back yard – at the Olympic Stadium in East London, some 30 minutes from the office!!
Unlike St James Park, all seats have amazing views in the Olympic Stadium and we were fortunate to be close to the action. And in the corner where it turns out Bryan Habana would score his hat-trick and in the process equal the great Johan Lomu’s record of 15 Rugby World Cup tries.
After back-to-back victories, the Springboks wanted to maintain momentum and top the group (and really hope Australia topped pool A so we would avoid them in the quarter-final). This they certainly did, routing the Americans 64-0. The Springboks ran in 10 tries in total at the Olympic stadium – Francois Louw scored twice and Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Bismarck du Plessis, Lwazi Mvovo and a penalty try comprised the rest of the rout – to make a powerful statement of intent – the Springboks had their confidence back and were looking better and better with each week.
The Springboks had topped their group and with Australia beating Wales to top pool A, a quarter-final against Wales at Twickenham awaited. Hope continued to spring!