CAPE TOWN – After just eight minutes on the clock, Pieter-Steph du Toit already felt that the Springboks had England’s number in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.
That was when giant No 8 Billy Vunipola picked up the ball from a scrum inside his own 22, but instead of trying to run over Siya Kolisi, Handre Pollard and Damian de Allende, he passed into no-one’s land, and Duane Vermeulen eventually won the breakdown penalty that Pollard slotted to put the South Africans 3-0 up.
Vunipola’s ill-advised offload followed a ferocious opening spell from the Boks, and led the foundation for the 32-12 triumph at International Stadium Yokohama.
And now, almost a year later, Rassie Erasmus’ team will tell their story about how they evolved from a side that had lost 57-0 to the All Blacks in 2017 into world champions.
Chasing The Sun is a five-part series that will be aired on M-Net, starting on Sunday at 6pm, culminating in the final episode on November 1 – the day before the first anniversary of the 2019 victory.
— Springboks (@Springboks) September 30, 2020
At the online launch of the documentary on Wednesday, Du Toit – the current World Player of the Year – recalled one of the key moments in the final that set the Boks on the path to glory.
“For me, when I realised that we’ve got them, they were behind their own tryline and started running from there, and threw a 20 or 30-metre pass… I thought ‘Listen, are you guys crazy! This is a World Cup final, and you don’t play like this’,” the Bok flank said.
“The other one was when (Billy) Vunipola picked up at the back of the scrum and ran into Damian de Allende and Handre Pollard, and he just threw the ball away and no one caught the ball. It just showed that we were quite physical in that game, and that they were quite afraid of us. That’s what the plan was at the end of the day.”
Now-retired prop Tendai Mtawarira added that the opening-round defeat to the All Blacks had made the players wonder whether they could do all the way to a third World Cup title, but Erasmus had managed to convince them that they were good enough.
“After we lost to New Zealand, Rassie told us that we are still going to win this World Cup. Despite not starting on the right step, he put that belief in us. Sitting in that change room, most of the guys had doubts,” Mtawarira said.
“But having your coach tell you that you are going to win this World Cup – even though we lost – was so big for the team. He told us that we only have four big games left to hold the trophy: Italy, quarter-final, semi-final and final. Our whole mentality shifted, and we just started to believe.”