Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, World Cup-winner ANDRE PRETORIUS talks about his memories of the 2007 final, how Handre Pollard compares to Butch James and the final against England on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Your overview of South Africa’s World Cup campaign?
Andre Pretorius: The Springboks’ 2019 World Cup campaign has been quite good for me. The men in green and gold have been criticised for playing boring rugby but in 2007 the template which Jake White implemented was quite similar. England’s semi-final win over New Zealand was completely different in terms of style but when you get to the knock-out stages an ugly win is better than a pretty loss. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like the media critiques and public pressure has got to Rassie Erasmus and Siya Kolisi. The way South Africa have stuck to their game plan and the execution of it is impressive. I’m quite impressed with how the Springboks have managed their tournament and there is a belief within this team. They have stuck at it and they don’t care what the world thinks of them. If no one gives them a chance they give themselves a chance, which is what matters most.
Sport24 asked: Why should people back and not bash Willie le Roux?
Andre Pretorius: I think Willie is fantastic player and, by all accounts, his confidence is just low at the moment. You can get X-factor moments from Willie, which change a whole game. That is what he is capable of and, if I was in Rassie’s shoes, I would also have backed him for the final. I wouldn’t change the team now. Willie’s experience at the back really helps the Springboks on defence, his attacking communication is good and his presence is very important to Rassie. There may be memes circulating on social media but Willie knows how to catch and pass... The return of Cheslin Kolbe (who sat out of the semi-final due to injury) will definitely be good for South Africa in the final. He is one of the smallest guys on the park but funnily enough his high-ball catching is phenomenal. With England set to kick high balls from No.9 as well, Kolbe is going to be critical to the Springbok cause.
Sport24 asked: How would you compare Handré Pollard to Butch James?
Andre Pretorius: It’s quite difficult to compare players from different teams and eras but it would probably be fair to say that Handre would have wanted to attack a bit more during this World Cup campaign. He is a fantastic flyhalf when he takes the ball to the line and possesses a great passing game. His kicking has come to the fore as the players have been given a game plan by Rassie, they believe in it and they have stuck to it. In 2007, Butch really kicked well tactically and at the right times. He also took the ball to the edge when it was on. Handre has the ability to take it to the line as well and a case in point was Damian de Allende’s try against Wales... As far as best flyhalf in the game today, I enjoy Beauden Barrett. I’m of the view that he brings a lot of energy and pace to No 10 and is more of a threat there then at fullback. New Zealand played off 10 but with Richie Mo’unga there he was never a threat and just a link. Sam Underhill and Tom Curry didn’t even worry about the flyhalf but when Barrett plays 10 he is looking to do something first and then get the ball.
Sport24 asked: What are the best ways to counter England’s strengths?
Andre Pretorius: Kolisi’s post-semi-final interview underlined that the Springboks know exactly what they want to do in which parts of the field. To me, it just sounds like they have simplified the decision-making process. In order to trouble England, the line speed off our defence needs to be really quick. England’s attack boasts the ability to get around any rush defence and South Africa need to put them under pressure… English analyst Stuart Barnes has voiced concerns about South Africa’s breakdown play but it’s about what Rassie wants. Maybe Rassie feels that if Francois Louw starts ahead of Kolisi he might concede more penalties. You can’t afford to concede penalties in a final but once Louw gets on with 15 minutes to go against tired bodies, the chance of conceding penalties is a lot less. I would definitely stick with Kolisi in the starting XV. He is the team’s captain and is bringing the nation together with his story and the way he has conducted himself before and during the World Cup. I’d keep him on the field for as long as possible and then let Louw finish it up.
Sport24 asked: Are you in favour of the 6-2 forwards/backs bench split?
Andre Pretorius: The 6-2 bench split has worked for Rassie and a couple of factors come into play when you decide on a 6-2 split. One is definitely set-piece which you want to protect but more so the scrums than the lineouts. Frans Steyn’s versatility ensures he’s able to cover the entire backline barring scrumhalf. However, the main reason is that because the Springboks are such a good defensive side, they make more tackles than the average team. Rassie wants to make sure that he can get forwards on the park after 60-65 minutes with fresh legs. England will look to create mismatches with the guys being tired and slow and I just think that Rassie is trying to minimise that.
Sport24 asked: Tell us about your “stormy” relationship with Jake White.
Andre Pretorius: While in the midst of the journey there is always a bit of ego involved. However, as you mature you realise who the best coaches are. In hindsight, Jake was always making me reach for the jersey. He knew that he had to keep me out of my comfort zone and as a player you could never relax under him. In a previous interview I described it as a “stormy relationship” but in hindsight it was not the right description. Since I have been coaching myself, I have spoken to Jake a couple of times and him and Loffie Eloff provide me with mentorship. Jake has been really good to me as a young coach and if I could take back what I said in that interview I would. What I can say now is that Jake is a fantastic coach and knew how to get the best out of me as a player… I look back on my Springbok career with gratitude. (Pretorius played 31 Test matches for the Springboks and started on 22 occasions). If I think of my impact at the 2007 Rugby World Cup it was kept to a minimum but I was very lucky to be part of that squad. There is always an element of regret when you don’t get to play as much as you would like to and I was supposed to get game time against Fiji. I saw the Tonga match as a trial for me and to say to Jake, “Listen, there is a lot more I have to give in this tournament.” But there was something in the air after Australia and New Zealand got knocked out and the Fijians gave us a good run for our money in the quarterfinals. I earned a World Cup medal but I think the way some of the players performed in preparation for the showpiece deserved it too.
Sport24 asked: What are your memories of the World Cup win in 2007?
Andre Pretorius: I didn’t play one minute in the final against England but I remember feeling raw emotions sitting on the bench during the game and then when we won it was an emotional release. In 2007, we didn’t change a lot leading up to the final. The mantra we adopted was “less is more”. It’s important not to change just because you are playing in the World Cup final. The processes stayed exactly the same, we had some good down time in the week and when it was time to focus, we did. Seeing the reaction from South Africans to the semi-final win against Wales gave me goose bumps. We need a World Cup win to unite the country. I hope the final goes in South Africa’s favour and I really think that we can do it. My message to South African rugby supporters is: Forget about the game plan and the type of rugby they are playing and just support the Springboks… The Springboks will be happy to give England the favourites tag. England have more to lose than we have and that underdog tag sits pretty nicely with us. England are the overwhelming favourites but hopefully with a few minutes to go in Yokohama on Saturday the English will be feeling the pressure.