South Africa’s rising stars have been toughened by their World Cup roller-coaster ride, according to star fly half Handre Pollard.
Many of the established Springboks had never known anything like the tumultuous start to this World Cup.
“The whole thing we have gone through after losing to Japan, the pressure we’ve been under,” recalled Pollard.
South Africa lost 34-32 to Japan in their opening game — a national humiliation.
Three victories still saw them top their group table. But they went out in the semi-finals in a punishing 20-18 defeat by reigning champions New Zealand.
The 21-year-old Pollard, one of several key new generation players with centres Jesse Kriel and Damien de Allende as well as locks Lodewyk de Jager and Eben Etzebeth, said: “Some of the senior players said, a few times, it is something they have never experienced in their entire careers.
“We are still in the beginning of our careers.
“It is something we take with us, to know we have learnt from this and gone through it.
“Basically it will be the mentality that nothing can get worse than this, the pressure we’ve been under after that first week,” Pollard explained.
– ‘Suffocate and strangle’ –
Pollard kicked 15 of South Africa’s 18 points on Saturday with five penalties. New Zealand’s two tries, plus 10 points from the boot of Dan Carter, downed the Springboks at a rainswept Twickenham.
“It is obvious we didn’t have the territory or possession we would have liked,” said Pollard.
“Hats off to New Zealand, I think they played that game very smartly with their little kicks behind.
“All in all they played a suffocate and strangle game and that’s probably the game we try to play most of the time.”
South Africa still have one more World Cup fixture — the third place playoff against Argentina at London’s Olympic Stadium on Friday.
Springboks assistant coach John McFarland has already been involved in a ‘bronze medal’ match with a South African team.
“Way, way back in my coaching career I was at an Under-20 World Cup back in 2009,” McFarland said.
“We lost in the semi-final and played Australia in the third-fourth place play-off and we beat them 33-8.
“There is a need for the players to be focused and treat it like a normal Test game. If you turn up without the right attitude against Argentina, they will punish you.
“For us it is the last Test of the year. I am looking forward to Friday night, even if it is not the final that we all hoped for.
“We put our hearts and souls into the last six months with the ‘Boks. We have given everything and the players have given everything.
“We could not have asked for more. So for us, third would be acceptable.”
Shortly after the semi-final, South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer dismissed the importance of the third-place match.
“It does not mean anything to me. It is like kissing your sister,” he said.
But McFarland, an advisor to the Springboks when they finished third at the 1999 World Cup, insisted players and staff would be in the right frame of mind come Friday.
In 1999, South Africa lost their semi-final by three points to Australia with a drop-goal at the end.
“Nick Mallett (the then South Africa coach) said to the guys, ‘Go away for two days, enjoy yourself and get away from rugby before captain’s practice’.
“The guys went out to beat New Zealand (22-18) in the third-fourth play off in Cardiff.
“I think the guys will turn up (on Friday).”