As a proud South African, World Cup winner Chester Williams wants nothing more than to see his beloved Springboks become the first country to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for a third time – and says they are more than capable of doing it.
With an exciting blend of experience and youth, South Africa will field a gnarly old pack including Victor Matfield, the Du Plessis brothers and Schalk Burger alongside fresh faces such as Ebven Etzebeth. And the same can be said of a devastating backline oozing pace and power in new boys Jesse Kriel and Damien de Allende mixing in with the established stars such as Bryan Habana and Ollie le Roux.
But it is the return of skipper Jean De Villiers that could be the most crucial according to Williams.
“The Springboks have been struggling with a lot of injuries to senior players but the young guys have stepped up and shown they can fill the experienced players’ boots,” says Williams. “It’s about letting the new combinations take shape and give them game time before the World Cup starts so that we hit the ground running in the Pools.
“Jean De Villiers will need to play a leading role for the team – whether that be on the pitch or just in the dressing room. He’s back playing after a horror knee injury but he will need sufficient game time to get up to match speed. But we know how strong a player he is so for me it will just come down to his confidence.
“The Pool games shouldn’t be too much of a problem for South Africa, but when it comes to the knockout stages, it is those games that we will need De Villiers to take on the top, top opposition.”
Another member of the victorious 2007 campaign, Jaque Fourie, is back in contention after injury but Williams believes newcomer Kriel offers similar threat from No.13.
“Jaque Fourie could also come into contention outside De Villiers but he is short of game time and lacking match fitness. But we have a youngster called Jesse Kriel who is built in the same mould as Fourie with similar attributes – good defender, great finisher with all the speed and capability to read the game as well. He’ll be a real star for the Springboks and he took his try against Australia in the Rugby Championship very well indeed.”
While the midfield of Hendre Pollard, de Allende and Kriel, that kicked off the Rugby Championship had an average age of 22, Williams says the experience out wide cannot be underestimated.
“Bryan Habana remains a lethal finisher but he hasn’t been getting the ball enough. Heyneke Meyer must be careful with the guys who play in the northern hemisphere as they have come off a long season with their clubs and will need to be rested and monitored leading into the World Cup.
“But I think if Habana is managed well he’ll be fit and raring to go come September and there are not many better wingers about.
“The players are there and the Springboks are confident of doing well this year. I believe we can do it again. We always peak for the world cup and there’s no reason South Africa cannot go all the way this time. I think they major obstacle will be New Zealand in the semi-final and if we can win that one we should win the final.”
Williams was one of the stars of the 1995 Rainbow Nation side that triumphed on home soil and hopes this team can create a similar culture and muster enough passion to go all the way.
“It’s hard to compare this team to the one I played in at the 1995 World Cup – the way we prepared, the way we were as a team and how we played the game are very different to now – professionalism changed the game completely. But one thing remains and that is to be successful at a World Cup, like in ’95 and in 2007 under Jake White, South Africa came together as a team. We played with passion, for the country.
“It’s difficult to recreate that culture we had in ’95 – ‘one team, one nation’ – but I’m sure Heyneke Meyer will ensure they have the right culture in camp, the right players with talent, and the vision to see that we can win the World Cup.”
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