PARIS – Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick believes Sunday’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal between South Africa and France here at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis is more than just a game of rugby.
“We have 60 million people in South Africa that are hoping (for a win) tomorrow at nine o’clock, they will forget about all the problems in their lives. Everyone is on one page and celebrating the moment in front of them, which is the Springboks when they are playing. I think it will take the whole 23 players. It is going to be a tough one. As we’ve been saying all week, to us it is bigger than just a rugby game,” Stick said here at the Main Media Centre at Roland Garros.
The Gwijo Squad attended the captain’s practice earlier in the day on Saturday and will be out in full force to support the Springboks as part of the 82 000 expected spectators at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
“It’s very special to have our South African fans to come all the way to support us. It shows how much it means to our country. We know people back at home are really behind us 100 per cent, that is how big the game is. It’s bigger than us.”
According to Stick the game is bigger than the Pool B clash against Ireland or the match against France in Marseille last year.
No second chance
“It is play-offs. There is no second chance. It’s a big game playing against the host nation. They are in a good space as a team. I think this is way bigger than the game against Ireland. We will make sure that we pitch up, we’ve done all our prep.
“It is going to be a tough occasion. They are playing at home, but we are also here to represent our country. We have been here before; we understand the challenge and hopefully we will be on the right side of the scoreboard.”
As the current world champions the Springboks have been in this position before when they played hosts Japan in the quarterfinals in 2019.
“We are playing against France and we know they are also in a good space as a team. They have won all their games, they had a big game against the All Blacks in the first game of the group stage and did very well. The nice thing for us is we have been in this position before. In Japan in 2019, it was the same thing, playing Japan with all their supporters. It is the nature of the game in a World Cup, you have to go through the tough ones.
“At least we have a good reference point. We have been here before. Every game we play now, we can’t afford not to capitalise on the opportunities that are created. It is going to be a tight game. We are well prepared, but we will see tomorrow. It doesn’t get bigger than this.”
Stick was asked by a French journalist if there would be any changes to the team before kick-off: “No, my friend, the team is announced, we will stick with that, if there is someone sick overnight or injured that (could change the team).”
The former Springbok Sevens captain is happy with the leadership group chosen for this crucial knockout game.
“Duane is part of our leadership group even if it isn’t in the matchday 23, he leads from the front. He is one of our massively experienced players, he knows how to play big moments.
“Going into the quarter-final against France having heads like Siya (Kolisi), Bongi (Mbonambi), Handre (Pollard) on the bench with Faf (de Klerk), we have a strong group out there. If you look at our balance, our forwards average 50 caps. Experience-wise, Duane will surely have a positive impact on the field.”
Stick explained how difficult it was choosing the team for the quarterfinal.
“Normally as coaches, when we select our squad, it probably changes three times before we actually announce it. There is always a debate amongst them, it is a healthy discussion between us coaches. It is sad for the guys who are not even in the match-day 23. If you look at a guy like Andre Esterhuizen, playing well for us, and Canan Moodie.
“We looked at the balance of the team. Having guys like Handre Pollard and Faf [de Klerk] on the bench, if the game gets tight we have guys who can close the game for us.
“With Cobus (Reinach) and Manie Libbok as a partnership, form-wise whenever Cobus gets an opportunity he really plays very well for us and Manie Libbok has changed the way we play. You can see how we play. The quality of the tries we have been scoring lately, they are good team tries.
“Manie Libbok is our general. He is playing very well for us and is a very, very confident player and deserves to be in the starting line-up. You can’t ask for any better playmaker to play behind.
“There is always a debate, and the nice thing for us is it is always a healthy debate. If we are always going to be nice to each other, we wouldn’t be doing our job for the 60 million South Africans. There were massive debates, we aren’t always right but we think this is the best 23 to handle France away from home.
“(Take) Handre Pollard, we know he has done a job for us before. Before he played the game against Tonga he had only played 30 minutes. We gave him an opportunity against Tonga, I thought (he played well). But (Manie Libbok), if you go back to the game we played against France last year he came off the bench in that and the way we played, the challenges he gave France, there were a lot of positive things, even though we didn’t enjoy losing.
“We know their crowd is always going to be hostile to us. It is a big moment for us and we are going to enjoy the challenge.”