Stransky lists Boks’ ‘X Factor’ in World Cup
The stars may have aligned for the Springboks to defend their Rugby World Cup crown at the showpiece in France that kicks off on Friday, 8 September.
That’s according to South Africa’s 1995 World Cup-winning hero, Joel Stransky, who says the current team not only have a similar playing style to the 1995 squad, but they also have an “X Factor” up their sleeve.
Stransky, who scored all of the Springboks’ points in their 15-12 victory over New Zealand in the 1995 final, says, “We had some exciting individuals in 1995, but this year’s team has real depth in the talent stacks when it comes to exciting individuals. When you think about Canan Moodie, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Makazole Mapimpi, Damian Willemse, Cheslin Kolbe, the list just goes on and on in terms of the exciting outside backs, so it’s a team with an X Factor.”
Should the Springboks win the World Cup, taking place from 8 September to 28 October, they will become only the second team to successfully defend it and the first to win four titles.
Kevin Musikanth, the head coach of the Israel national rugby team and Tel Aviv Heat’s director of rugby, also believes the Springboks are strong going into the World Cup. The team’s 35-7 hammering of New Zealand on 25 August showed “how devastating the Springboks are when they get it right”, he says.
“We play a game plan that suits our strengths,” says Stransky. “We’re particularly fortunate as it’s a game plan that really suits knockout rugby. We’re big, strong, and powerful. We dominate the set phase, which has become an enormously important part of the game. Adding to that a strong defensive structure, and we are perfectly set up to play World Cup rugby.”
Stransky, who will be commenting for World Rugby during the World Cup, believes the Springboks are the favourites for all these reasons. “It’s very hard on a day when the pressure is huge to beat a team the way we play.”
France, Ireland, and New Zealand are the other favourites, according to Stransky and Musikanth. “The remaining teams from France, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa will land up there at the end,” Musikanth says. “Two will go out in the quarter-finals, but I believe that the winner will be from those four teams.”
Stransky says France plays similarly to the Springboks and also has “a big game team with a big heavy pack of forwards and a big emphasis on the tight phase. Their scrumhalf, Antoine Dupont, is probably the greatest player in the world at the moment. They have exciting outside backs. Add to that, the inspiration of the home crowd. Playing at home brings great support, but it also brings a lot of pressure. Whether they can cope in the pressure cauldron is the big question.
“New Zealand will bounce back, and they’ll still be a formidable team to beat. The other team is Ireland, whose starting lineup is unbelievable. They play a different brand of rugby compared to anyone else. They keep the ball, go through heaps of phases, and eventually try to wear you down.”
Musikanth will be watching every game during the World Cup and will keep a close eye on two of his Tel Aviv Heat players, Prince Gaoseb and Max Katjijeko, who have been included in Namibia’s squad. “They have both played a few warm-up games and have an experienced ex-Springbok and World Cup coach in Allister Coetzee. They are in a very tough group, but wonderful players.”
Stransky says playing at the World Cup “is where every single player wants to be. Playing with that pressure and on the global stage against the best in the world is certainly where I wanted to be,” he says.
Stransky says the 1995 win united the country and he saw “the significance of winning under the leadership of Siya Kolisi, our first black captain, in 2019. I don’t think this year’s World Cup can equal 2019 because that was unbelievably special, particularly having been no-hopers in 2018. This time, we are favourites, so it will be a different type of World Cup for us. But for Siya to captain this team to defend the Rugby World Cup would be just sensational and obviously massively significant for us as a country.”
While “enjoying one of the greatest rugby spectacles on earth”, Musikanth will be focusing on Tel Aviv Heat’s upcoming Super Cup against many World Cup players from Romania, Portugal, and Georgia.
This year’s Springbok team has a similar squad to the 2019 World Cup, Stransky says. “The challenge is to ensure that this team of world rugby stars is hungry and inspired to achieve something special again.”