EXCLUSIVE: Tough individual narratives scripted Bok mental toughness

rugby18 April 2024 07:16| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich

When the Springboks were down 15-6 with less than a quarter of an hour left on the clock and they were defending at a scrum five metres from their own line, their exit from the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France had become a reality. A reality, that is, to everyone but themselves.

While all over South Africa the people who had waited up on that Sunday night to watch what most people thought would be an untroubled step for the Boks into the World Cup final the following weekend consigned themselves to having a gloomy Monday, the Bok players still believed it was possible to win.

Call it mental toughness for want of a better expression, but the Bok players just refused to panic, refused to give up, and they retained their belief.

History reflects that it was an attitude and a mental steeliness that drove their comeback in the final minutes to steal a solitary point win they hardly deserved based on the 80 minutes of that game but was probably the right result based on performances in the tournament.

After all, the Boks had survived some intensely high pressure moments to get through as winners against France in the quarterfinal, a game that many felt had all the impact and gravitas of a final, and not just the first knock-out game.

A week later, the Boks did it again against a New Zealand side that became resurgent and started to find on field momentum after their skipper Sam Kane was red carded.

To the winning Bok coach Jacques Nienaber’s mind, there was nothing lucky or coincidental about how everything transpired.


To him, the individual life scripts of most of the Bok players, who had fought against adversity and often failed to be recognised at the first franchise or province they were contracted to, drove the World Cup narrative.

“You always need a little bit of luck, but the amazing thing about this team is that they find a way,” said Nienaber in response to a question on Chasing the Sun 2 on whether it was luck or something else that drove the Boks’ great escapes en route to their second successive global title.

“We spoke about it before, if you look at a guy like Siya (Kolisi) or a guy like (Makazole) Mapimpi, or Duane Vermeulen, who was initially contracted by the Lions but they thought he wasn’t good enough so he went to the Pumas.

You know, if you look at the scripts that life has handed these players, all of them, the majority of them, they shouldn’t have been in a World Cup winning squad.

“I mean the script even with Faf (de Klerk) and Vincent (Koch) was like that, they had to leave the Bulls because the Bulls didn’t believe they were good enough in their environment, so they had to go to the Pumas. Willie le Roux had to go to Griquas and to Boland (instead of Western Province). 

The scripts that life has handed these guys has shown you that they have found a way to get and to create their own reality. Which they did, and for me that came through in the semifinal.”

Watch Nienaber speaking about the ability of his players to find a way on the Supersport Youtube channel in the link.