If the Springboks are not favorites for the World Cup in France (September 8-October 28), South Africa “is a much better oiled machine” than at the 2019 World Cup, said the reigning world champion scrum-half Faf de Klerk in an interview with AFP.
Q: Four years later, what do you remember from the 2019 World Cup?
A: “I remember the first game and this defeat against New Zealand (23-13, editor’s note). Everyone told us that we couldn’t win the World Cup if we lost the first game. “I think all the work we had to do behind the scenes to get out of the pools was special. I got to see how the guys grew and how much these difficulties brought us together. Lifting the trophy for the first time, it was really magical… like seeing my girlfriend, who has since become my wife, wearing the winner’s medal around her neck while drinking from a gigantic beer bottle! (laughs) But I think the ultimate memory is was to bring the trophy home and see the impact and significance it had for South Africans. That’s probably my fondest memory.”
Q: What are the differences between the Springboks of 2019 and those of 2023?
A: “Compared to 2019, I think we’re a much better oiled machine. Back then, we were really raw. That doesn’t mean we’re better, but I think we understand better what the coaches expect from us, what they want and what our level of play should be. is in a good position, probably better than in 2019. Now we have to stay motivated in every game. But that won’t be a problem!”
Q: Who is the favorite of this World Cup in France?
A: “I think everyone wants France to win. Ireland will also have their say but I feel like the whole world wants to see France win. It’s in France and they are making incredible progress. There are five or six teams that can claim to win it. But the World Cup has strange effects on some teams and some players don’t like such pressure. Ireland have never made it past the quarters, for example. It’s a hotly contested competition and that’s great.”
Q: South Africa is not favorite according to you?
A: “I don’t think we’re seen as favourites, I’m not sure why. There’s always someone to say we don’t deserve it or we won’t make it. Take the players who are in the team, you know what they went through and the difficulties they faced… We always said that we were outsiders, it doesn’t matter whether we are favorites or not. People are always going to see us as outsiders and we want to prove them wrong.”
Q: You are known for your aggressive style…
A: “Some love it, others hate it. I’m like that. I like competition, I like fighting, I like challenges… I thrive on the field and in competition: it’s what I like, a challenge. It’s really cool and that’s how I progress, how I raise my level of play.”
Interview by Andrew McKIRDY