Siya Kolisi did not have much to smile after South Africa lost to Ireland on Saturday night, but he couldn’t help but break out in laughter when he was asked whether his team could still win the World Cup.
“For sure,” said the head coach Jacques Nienaber. Both he and Kolisi were part of the team that did exactly that in 2019, when they lost to New Zealand in the pool stage. “A lot of us were here in the last World Cup and we know that the quicker you get over it the better it is for the group,” Kolisi said. “So that’s what we’re going to do.
“We were always prepared for this scenario,” Kolisi explained. “We knew this pool was going to be tough, but we’ve been in the same position before so we’re not going to shy away from it. We lost a game, but we can’t be down for too long because it is not going to help.”
Kolisi and Nienaber both agreed that the team would be better for it. “It was played with massive intensity and physicality, and for a couple of our players, like Manie Libbok and Kurt-Lee Arendse, this will have been the most pressured game they have ever played in. They will get better for it, because they will get used to the pressure of playing games like this. It felt like a knock-out game, a semi-final, or final, so we got good preparation out of it, we just didn’t get the result.”
The Ireland coach Andy Farrell echoed that. “That was a proper game, it had absolutely everything, ebbs and flows, ups and downs, and the way we managed to stay mentally on point was fantastic. We kept our heads when it really mattered, and that was the big plus in our performance. Let’s be honest, it was wonderful to win, but there was not much between two good sides. So the best thing about it for us is that we got to feel the intensity of a big game in the World Cup, and that will help us further down the line.”
Nienaber admitted that the wrinkle was that he wouldn’t now be able to rest players for the last group game against Tonga. Listening to Farrell, and his captain Johnny Sexton, it does not sound like Ireland will be easing off any for their last group match against Scotland, either. “We’ve had some big wins in the pool stages before, and this is right up there,” Sexton said. “But we’ve got to make it count now. Bye week then we have to back it up against Scotland.
“We’re in a good place but we can’t get carried away,” Sexton continued. “Because every team is lining us up. When you’re world No 1 they’ll use that as motivation, when you’re on an unbeaten run, they’ll use that as motivation, so we need to keep our feet on the ground and keep striving for a better game. Teams will see that tonight and think: ‘this is how we get after Ireland’, so we need to keep learning on the run. That’s what you need to do to win the World Cup.”