Vincent Koch has warned Grand Slam winners Wales not to relax after their Six Nations exploits, promising South Africa will be at their best to meet the World Cup challenge.
Wales have emerged as the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest threat ahead of this autumn’s global gathering in Japan.
However, Saracens prop Koch, who was recalled to Springbok colours last October, believes the Rainbow Nation are building towards a third title.
“Hopefully, I can be part of the World Cup and we can definitely be a threat,” Koch told The Rugby Paper. “At the moment it looks pretty open and when you look at the Six Nations and Wales winning a Grand Slam, a number of teams could potentially win it.
“South Africa will be at their best; (head coach) Rassie Erasmus has brought something to us and we will definitely be right up there.”
Koch’s optimism is borne of South Africa’s performances last autumn when they defeated world champions New Zealand in Wellington, came within seconds of beating them again in Pretoria and enjoyed a solid Northern Hemisphere tour.
“It was amazing to be involved again,” said Koch, 29. “I didn’t think it would happen for me but there was definitely a different vibe to the squad. Rassie has brought something different and he’s given a lot more freedom to the players than before.
“That’s earned a lot of respect and there’s a much better atmosphere in the camp.
“Not everything went our way during the autumn and losing to England and Wales was disappointing but it was great being part of the set-up even so.
“We’re building and nothing will be bigger than our first game in Japan against New Zealand, but hopefully we can pull through that group and then fully focus on the rest.
“At the moment I’m just enjoying playing for Saracens but my goal is to definitely play at the World Cup and be part of the 23 that faces New Zealand. Our guys will be pumped up for it and I’m convinced we can have a very good World Cup.”
First, Koch has his sights set on a Premiership and Champions Cup double, with Saturday’s European quarter-final against Glasgow first on an enticing menu.
Having already beaten the PRO14 side twice in the pool Koch hopes home advantage will prove the difference as Saracens target a third Champions Cup title.
He said: “It’s going to be a completely different game to the first two times we played them. We dominated their forwards in the past so they’ll definitely want to bring a physical edge there and give us a really big battle in that area.
“It’s a quarter-final, it’s massive for both sides and they’ve got nothing to lose. They play on an artificial pitch as well so they’ll come out firing, but we’re at home and that makes a massive difference, as we saw against Ospreys two years ago.”
Saracens expect Maro Itoje to be available after injury and Koch anticipates Owen Farrell will have something to say after his Six Nations disappointment.
Koch added: “The best players in the world will always get more criticism but I don’t think that stuff bothers him much. I’m excited to see him playing because he’ll come back with a bang and try to silence his critics.
“It’s nice to have all our internationals back; they always come back with a lot of excitement to play for Sarries. They know how hard we’ve been fighting while they’ve been away.”
NEALE HARVEY / Photo: Getty Images