TOKYO, 3 Nov - South Africa began Rugby World Cup 2019 with great confidence, having defeated New Zealand in 2018. They were the first foreign team to arrive in Japan for the tournament and overpowered the hosts 41-7 in a warm-up match.
Yet the All Blacks were still the team to beat at RWC 2019, and going down 23-13 in their pool stage opener dented the Springboks' confidence. There were doubts about whether they had enough firepower in their attacking game to complement a powerful pack of forwards, strong set piece and well-organised defence.
But they managed to build momentum as they moved towards the quarter-finals, beating Namibia, Italy and Canada with bonus-point victories.
They would not have expected to face the pacy Japan side in the first knockout match. It was a difficult test for the Boks, and especially the big South Africa forwards, but they imposed themselves physically and, with their defence presenting an impenetrable wall, they won comfortably.
They were favourites to beat Wales in the semi-finals, but it turned out to be tougher than expected, a late Handre Pollard penalty taking them over the line by three points.
That performance, and England's domineering win over New Zealand in the other semi, made them underdogs going into the tournament decider. But with Pollard scoring 22 points and the forwards again stepping up with a fearsome display, the Springboks clinched a third title.
Pollard and captain Siya Kolisi said before the match that the Boks had not shown all their skills before the final, and so it proved, as wings Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe scored two excellent tries to round off a superb campaign.
Rassie Erasmus remained steadfast in his belief that "traditional" South Africa strengths, such as scrums, lineouts, mauling and defence, would conquer the world.
Outsiders urged the Springbok coach to add some strings to their attacking bow, especially as he possessed such lethal wingers as Mapimpi and Kolbe. However, scrum-half Faf de Klerk stuck doggedly to the box-kick ploy, and Mapimpi and Kolbe chased every one.
Pollard, meanwhile, slotted the kicks in the big games. It was almost as if Erasmus was holding back a few attacking moves for the final. So it proved, as the Springboks added some clever passes, played with good width and put in smart chip kicks behind the England defence, to supplement the power of the forwards.
The eye-catching decision to select six forwards among the substitutes also brought a new dimension to the South Africa pack, as a fresh tight five in the second half kept up the relentless pressure on the opposition.
It all worked out for Erasmus and he could not hide his smile after the final whistle on Saturday. He will now relinquish the head coach position and concentrate on his role as the director of rugby at the South African Rugby Union.