A glance at the history books covering previous Rugby World Cups and even those dealing with the era before that, when teams toured other countries for months at a time, reveals the truth of that headline. Defence does win matches, especially the big matches.
If you’re old enough to remember the 1995 World Cup, you will remember that the victory at Ellis Park was set up by obdurate defence in that final against the All Blacks as well as in the preceding rounds. And more recently, when out editor’s old school chum led the Boks to their second World Cup in 2007, defence was again the common denominator.
It will probably be the same in Japan when RWC2019 kicks off in two weeks: the team that is most successful in keeping opponents from scoring will probably lift the Web Ellis Cup. So it’s no surprise that Rassie Erasmus appears to have identified defence as a critical component of his game plan.
This was revealed in a recent column on SuperSport.com by Johan Coetzee. He opens with a quote: "In this team we defend as if we're defending our own homes. You defend the tryline as if it is your own family standing behind it."
Coetzee then offers context: “If you had even the slightest doubt that the Springboks mean business at this year's Rugby World Cup, then the often enigmatic Willie le Roux just gave you a straight answer.”
Digging a bit deeper he delves into the team culture: “The Boks are in a space where if one of them talks about ‘your own family’ being attacked, they almost certainly include the other 14 men stuck between four lines wearing a particular shade of green and gold that offers a bond that no one individual dares to break. Not this year.
“The statistics back that statement completely.
“Since the end of the 2015 World Cup until the end of the 2018 international season, the Springboks conceded an average of 25 points and 2.78 tries per match. This year that has dropped drastically to only 16 points and 1.5 tries per match.”
So, if Siya Kolisi really wants to be the first black Springbok captain to lift the Web Ellis Cup on 2 November, then they will have to maintain the proud record and, possibly, improve upon it. Two weeks to go. We can’t wait.