JOHANNESBURG – Can you feel it?
The 2019 Rugby World Cup kicks off in 11 days’ time with the hosts, Japan, taking on Russia in Tokyo. It’s likely to be the most uninteresting tournament opener ever, but you can be sure there will be millions watching all over the world.
The first real action involving some genuine contenders will be next Saturday when early in the morning, SA time, Australia will take on Fiji, before France and Argentina lock horns around breakfast time. That match is then followed by possibly the game of the opening round and weekend – and potentially of the tournament – when the defending champions, the All Blacks, and the Springboks meet in Yokohama.
My wish-list then for the coming days, in the build-up to that match, includes the following:
1) That everyone in the Bok squad stays fit
Coach Rassie Erasmus, his management team, the players, the South African public and Trevor Nyakane himself would have breathed a sigh of relief that the big prop didn’t get too badly injured in last Friday’s warm-up match against Japan.
Nyakane will be a key man for the Boks at scrum-time over the next few weeks and losing him before the tournament has even started would have been a major blow.
2) That the Boks have acclimatised
We’ve read and heard (and I’ve written about it right here) about the amount of time the Bok squad have spent together this year and will spend together in Japan over the next few weeks. Erasmus opted to go to Japan earlier than any other team (they arrived 10 days ago while the All Blacks only arrived yesterday) so his players could get used to the hot and humid conditions, and also because he’d arranged a final warm-up game against Japan (last Friday).
We must hope the early arrival will have been beneficial to the Boks as they prepare for the All Blacks game, and they’re not a tired, irritated bunch come next weekend.
3) That the players repay the faith
Erasmus has made it clear who he believes his first-choice players are and he’s not likely to make any late and drastic changes to his plans. Hopefully then the likes of front-row men Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff, captain Siya Kolisi, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, fullback Willie le Roux, and back-up utility man Frans Steyn, stand up big-time and deliver strong performances.
4) That South Africa get behind the team
It’s been a hard couple of weeks, with the passing just days ago of 1995 Rugby World Cup hero Chester Williams, who touched so many lives and inspired so many young boys to play rugby, and also of his wing man James Small, also a winner in 1995. Our country is hurting and there is pain and anger in so many places, but in sport South Africa somehow manages to stand together and cheer as one.
I hope the next few weeks of the Springboks fighting to bring a little joy and happiness to some homes and hearts will see South Africa standing as a collective behind Kolisi and his team.
‘Big in Japan’
And finally … surely someone, somewhere is going to make Alphaville’s monster smash hit from the 80s, “Big In Japan”, live and breathe again. If not, hopefully one of the teams have adopted it as their go-to song for the tournament.
It would just be wrong if we didn’t hear it at some stage over the next few weeks.