'Japan really stretched us‚' admits Duane Vermeulen

Japan's Jiwon Koo in action with South Africa's Duane Vermeulen on October 20, 2019.
Japan's Jiwon Koo in action with South Africa's Duane Vermeulen on October 20, 2019.
Image: REUTERS/Matthew Childs

Their first half struggles against Japan meant the Springboks went into halftime with a negative mindset in their Rugby World Cup (RWC) quarterfinal on Sunday.

However‚ when they re-emerged from the tunnel re-energised captain Siya Kolisi and senior elder Duane Vermeulen nipped the negativity in the bud.

“We were under pressure‚” said Vermeulen.

“Japan really stretched us. It was only 5-3. I feel when moved into halftime the guys had a negative mindset.

"Everyone was complaining about some things that didn’t go our way.

“I just told the guys to stay focused on what we need to do and how we want to execute. When we started the second half we kind of turned it around.

"Everyone was a bit more positive on the field. The guys who came off the bench also did their job and had a massive input in the game.”

Tries by Makazole Mapimpi and Faf de Klerk‚ as well as two penalties from Handre Pollard‚ helped seal the deal for the Boks.

The Springboks’ inability to finish their attacks caused some unease at the conclusion of the first half.

That made matters worse for coach Rassie Erasmus who came into the match a little tense.

“We were nervous going into this match‚ with the home support and the way they played against Ireland and Scotland. They were definitely building momentum.

“We were sure that with the home support they had‚ it was going to be a tough match. Going into half-time and only being up a few points‚ and leaving a few tries out there‚ there was definitely a lull and quietness in our change room.

“But having been together for 17 weeks‚ the guys knew which buttons to push to get ourselves out of that lull and come out of it in the second half. We were proud of that.

“Normally if guys miss tackles or there is a lack of commitment‚ and there are effort errors‚ then harsh words can help‚” said Erasmus.

“But when it is a bad pass‚ or a missed opportunity or a skill error‚ then it’s about getting the guys’ confidence levels up. I guess that was the challenge at half-time‚ and that was more where Siya and Duane and those guys did really well."

Erasmus did not fault the team’s effort and commended Japan’s tenacity and intensity which helped keep the pressure on the Boks.

“We actually did really well in terms of intensity‚ but not as great with our execution.

"It wasn’t really harsh words‚ but more trying to calm the guys down and trying to execute better. Siya and the boys did most of the talking and sorted that out‚” said Erasmus.