Boks in muted tones as seismic World Cup semifinal against rivals England looms large

Captain Siya Kolisi with Springboks teammates during their training session ahead of their 2023 Rugby World Cup against England at Stade de France on October 20, 2023 in Paris, France.
Captain Siya Kolisi with Springboks teammates during their training session ahead of their 2023 Rugby World Cup against England at Stade de France on October 20, 2023 in Paris, France.
Image: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Out in the woods, the sticks if you like, well north of Paris, the Springboks had their final word before they clash with England in the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup on Saturday night. 

This week, collectively they have sought to draw the sting from the prematch hype ahead of their clash against supposed bitter enemies. 

They all sat on a stage in quaint Presles' community centre behind a table with a bank of microphones.

They all sang, mumbled monotone more like, from a carefully rehearsed hymn sheet and there was little inflection or deviation. 

It was hard to imagine France's most venerated crooner Charles Aznavour delivered his first live performance on the same stage in 1962. 

You'd think a clash against England, bitter historic rivals would stir the emotions, if not a little blood, but the Boks are well versed in sticking to the script. 

“We don't play on emotions because after 20 minutes you burn yourself out,” countered Bongi Mbonambi sagely. 

He wouldn't even entertain the thought that England referred to themselves as underdogs. 

“We haven't mentioned them as underdogs. It would be disrespectful to say they are underdogs.” 

Captain Siya Kolisi, a from-the-heart shooter, also talked down whatever sting there may be in this tale. 

“I think the rivalry was there before my time,” Kolisi reminded on Thursday when an attempt was made to draw him into talk about the enemy. 

Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick continued the theme on Friday as he complimented England's selection.

He lauded the inclusion of little known George Martin in the second row.

“There are no big surprises,” he said about the England team selection.

“Martin has been doing well for them. It shows the coaching staff believes in his physique. They are in a good space and are getting the results they are looking for. They were very physical. 

“They are getting results and you can never underestimate anyone,” said Stick. 

England's win in the semifinals against New Zealand four years ago will be sufficient warning that the Boks cannot go down the path of complacency. 

England's form has been underwhelming at this RWC, leaving some to speculate they will only get better in the tournament.

Stick reminded that improvement is also within his team's reach.

His team has been better in every match they've played at this year's tournament. 

“Every game we've played so far in the World Cup, even with all the changes, our boys always pitch up. Probably one of the best games for me was against Tonga. Physically they really challenged us.

“That prepared us for what was coming. They are going to be us for this given the history between the two sides. 

“France got an opportunity and scored early against us and that put us under pressure. It was a good game for us in the sense that we stayed in the fight. If our boys weren't mentally switched on it would have been a long day for us.” 

Stick was asked about the quirk of the respective draws at the RWC and the Cricket World Cup that pits South Africa against England against each other on the same day on different continents. 

“It is good to be South African,” said Stick.

“I know the Proteas lost to the Netherlands in their last game. Things didn't go well but for where they are as a team they are doing well and credit must go to the coaching staff and to Temba (Bavuma) as well. 

“I wish them the best and they have to understand we are fully behind them.” 


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