Sun City – Former Springbok flyhalf Butch James reckons South Africa are in the perfect position ahead of the Rugby World Cup next year.
The Springboks lost narrowly to both the top-ranked Ireland and the number two side in the world France, over the last two weeks. It leaves South Africa only capable of finishing with two out of four wins on their overseas tour with only the Italy and England clashes remaining.
Looking ahead to the Rugby World Cup starting in September 2023, the performances matter more than the results, said James at the Gary and Vivienne Player Invitational at Sun City on Friday.
“Losing two games is never great, but I haven’t minded because it’s good for the World Cup. You don’t want to beat the best team in the world and the second best team, then go on and beat England and go four out of four. Then you’d go to the World Cup as favourites and then all the media and all the eyes are on you. Then there’s a bit of pressure.
“But the way we’re going at the moment, I think we’re five [four] in the world … We’ve lost two on tour now, so come the World Cup we’re going to fly in under the radar and be in a good position. I think we’ve got a good team that believe they can beat both those teams (Ireland and France) that we lost to. So I’m happy so far.”
While it’s expected South Africa will be too strong for Italy on Saturday, the last match of their tour will be against fifth-ranked England next week. In what will be a highly-contested affair, James said there would be plenty on the line.
“That’s going to be another big one. It’s going to be a repeat of the 2019 World Cup final, so England will be wanting to beat us. But it’s also our last game of the tour so the guys will want to finish up well. If we beat Italy this weekend it could be two from two. I think then they’d come back pretty happy with themselves.”
When asked about the flyhalf situation, with Handre Pollard injured and Elton Jantjies battling off-field issues, James suggested that Damian Willemse will need some coaching before he’s the complete package.
“It’s a tough one with Handre injured and Elton not being selected. I like Damian. I thought he had a good game against Ireland. As soon as he missed a few kicks everyone didn’t like him again. The more he plays there the better he will get. With Willie at fullback, who often slots in at first receiver will also help Damian settle and cement his position.
“He [Willemse] does have the X-factor, I would like him not to use it as much as he does. He’s got some big ball carriers outside him. He can also use his blindside wings and loose forwards whenever he needs. I would like him stepping out of the action for most of the time and when his chance comes to use that X-factor to take a gap or make some magic. He will get there with more experience and I’m sure the coaches are working with him on that.”