CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The Springboks will be strong contenders at next year’s World Cup in Japan after recovering from two dismal seasons that produced a number of unwanted records, according to South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus and his England counterpart Eddie Jones.
A rejuvenated Bok side secured a 2-1 home series victory over England this month despite the absence of leading players Warren Whiteley, Eben Etzebeth and Malcolm Marx as the tenure of Erasmus got off to a promising start.
The Boks managed just 11 wins in 25 tests in the previous two seasons, which included a record 57-0 loss to New Zealand and a first ever defeat at the hands of Italy among many low points under former coach Allister Coetzee.
They have looked better organised, stronger in defence and more muscular in the pack in 2018 so far, and can head into the Rugby Championship with some confidence, though Erasmus says the challenge between now and the World Cup next September is managing the workload of the players.
“I think we can win the World Cup, but then I also think England can win the World Cup. Every single (top) team has a chance next year,” Erasmus said.
“The challenges with us are the things that are not always seen (by the public), such as the minutes Siya (Kolisi) has played this season without a break.
“We are trying to manage things like that. There are so many things we are balancing at this stage, trying to build towards the World Cup.”
The Boks were well beaten in the wet by England in the third test on Saturday, but were the deserved series winners with a number of their leading players still to return from injury.
“With the things that we have learnt, and getting players back like Damian Willemse and Eben (Etzebeth), who is currently out of the mix, if we can get it all right then we are in with a chance,” Erasmus said.
“We have the talent, but we will have to manage our players. There are a lot of things we need to balance so that when we hit September next year we have a fresh, experienced team with a lot of confidence.”
Jones was perhaps more emphatic when asked whether he thought the Boks would be among the leading sides at the tournament in Japan.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “There are bloody good young players here. There is an incredible depth of talent.
“Rassie has done a good job of getting some wins for the side early. The big difference between the Springboks now and six months ago is that they work much harder off the ball.
“They have got a strong maul, which is a traditional strength of Springbok rugby. And then when the opportunity comes they have the ability to spread the ball into space.
“There are some really good gains for the team and they will continue to get stronger.”
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty