Before Rassie Erasmus took over the Springbok rugby team, it was simply “broken.”
That’s the view of World Cup-winning prop Steven Kitshoff who chatted to Supersport’s Motshidisi Mohono after the first episode of Chasing the Sun was screened on Sunday night.
Kitshoff said it was “emotional” catching up on the memories as he watched the episode with the rest of the country.
“It was so emotional watching that first episode, it just brings back so many great memories of the World Cup, the Rugby Championship and just everything around it was incredible,” he said.
“2017 was definitely one of the toughest years in my career, losing 57-0 against the All Blacks was a low point. I think back then the Springbok team was just broken. I don’t think we clicked at all, there was no synergy in the team and we didn’t know what was next, how to go forward from there.
“As a team, when Rassie came in in 2018 we focused more on playing rugby, and the importance of rugby for South Africa as a country. We started playing like old Springbok teams did and it just turned the tide of SA Rugby.”
'A DARK TIME'
Kitshoff said the 57-0 loss to the All Blacks was “a dark time” and was a massive learning curve for him as a young player.
“I definitely tried to avoid all media, all social media. It was a dark time. I knew inside that things would only get better from here. I knew you can’t get lower than this. Luckily the ship was turned around, so it was great. It was one of those moments in your life, it was a massive learning curve, knowing as a rugby player what it takes to be professional in the game, what it takes to play at that elite level with the Springboks every weekend.
“Even during those two dark years we went through, I knew we could turn the ship around with the right management, the right coaching staff and the right players.”
Kitshoff said one of the best things that Erasmus did was to address the transformation element in the camp, and the fact that players couldn’t hide behind it any more.
“Rassie was very open about it, one of his first alignment camps, he spoke about winning and playing a transformed team picked on merit. It was not a thing guys could hide behind, whether you were selected or not. The guys knew you were there on merit, the team selection protocol was open for all the team to see.
“You know exactly where you stand and it creates that bond between you and the coach, because you know exactly where you stand. You know you are there on merit and it creates the bond and brotherhood that the team needs to perform.”
He enjoyed reliving the 2018 win over the All Blacks and recalls the nervousness as the Boks held out in the end.
“Watching Chasing the Sun and I remember the speech Rassie made that day. That relentlessness of not giving up and going for the full 80 minutes of being in their faces was important, and that is how it turned out at the end of the game, to hold them out repeatedly.
“That line speed caused the mistake. The fear of the Springboks creates the mistake in the end.
“I was sitting on the bench at the end, I had chewed through all my nails, I was so nervous and I could see on the guys faces they would not give up for anything. The incredible fight and desperation was insane and the joy that came after that was incredible.”
Episode two will be screened on MNet on Sunday night at 6pm.