The Springboks departed South Africa on Saturday, determined to defend their world champions’ title at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
Over 5,000 fans headed to OR Tambo international airport to bid the team farewell as they head to Cardiff for their second Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Wales.
The Boks face Wales on Saturday, 19 August, and New Zealand at Twickenham the following Friday (25 August) before their Rugby World Cup opener against Scotland on Sunday, 10 September.
Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber and captain Siya Kolisi spoke of the pressure of defending their title ahead of their departure.
“The main difference between the 2019 Rugby World Cup and this one is that there is a little more expectation on us now,” said Nienaber.
“As a team we’ve built more squad depth over the last few years, but the expectations are not a burden; it’s a privilege.
“In the last few weeks, we’ve attended a few functions, and we’ve heard all the messages from our partners, dignitaries, and the public, so we realise how much support we have. We understand the expectations, and we embrace it.”
The Bok head coach added that experience will be key for the title holders.
“The beauty of this squad is that we have quite a lot of experience,” he said.
“We have nine players participating in their third Rugby World Cup and a whole lot in their second. So perhaps only a third of the squad is going into their first World Cup.”
No underdogs tag in 2023
Captain Kolisi added: “We are entering this World Cup as defending champions, whereas we were the underdogs the last time. We may not be underdogs this time, but we are not the favourites.
“That said, we know what to expect this time, and we have a lot more experience as a group.
“Even the younger players are not entering this competition blindly because there are several experienced players around them to guide them. All in all, we are in a better mental place this time.”
Kolisi added that the squad have the South African people at the top of their minds as they embark on the challenge of winning back-to-back World Cups and thanked the large crowd that bid them farewell in Johannesburg.
“Every time we enter the World Cup, there are some challenges in the country, and we have the power to try to change people’s emotions and put smiles on their faces if we do well,” said Kolisi.
“As a team we come from such diverse backgrounds, and it makes us feel good to give people hope.”
Nienaber added that the Springboks have rotated their squad a lot in their four previous matches this year, but attention now turns to building team continuity.
“A guy like Jaden (Hendrikse) has not had game time yet, and it would be nice to give him some time on the field,” said Nienaber.
“But there’ll be less chopping and changing, and we’ll try to build more combinations.”
Kolisi agreed with his coach, adding: “We certainly want to win and start building player combinations.
“We’ve used 38 players in the last four matches, so I’m not sure what the coaches’ thinking is, but with the Rugby World Cup ahead, we’ll start trying to build combinations and momentum.”