Bryan Habana believes Rassie Erasmus has brought “joy and pride” back to the South African badge after an impressive 2018.
The Springboks have a spring in their step this year, having won seven of Erasmus’ 14 games in charge since taking the reins from Allister Coetzee in March.
Erasmus’ tally of victories is only four behind Coetzee’s total of 11 from an ultimately miserable 22 months in charge that dragged South Africa to its knees – the lowlight a record 57-0 defeat to the All Blacks in September 2017.
However, a day shy of exactly a year on from that dark day, the world champions were toppled 36-34 in their own back yard during the Rugby Championship.
Full-back Willie le Roux said following the 20-11 defeat to Wales in Cardiff last weekend that brought the curtain down on his first year in charge that the fear factor had returned to South Africa.
“There was a stage where people did not fear the Springboks anymore, or the badge. We are getting that back,” said Le Roux.
But Boks legend Habana feels it is joy that has returned more than anything else.
“There’s definitely been progression post 2016, 2017,” Habana told Sport360 at the Dubai Rugby Sevens on Thursday where he is acting as an ambassador for HSBC.
“They are by no means the finished product and I think Rassie and Siya (Kolisi, South Africa captain) will know that. But I think there’s a little bit more hope installed. They way they’ve been playing, the win in Wellington against New Zealand, was unbelievable.”
Habana, 35, is his nation’s record tryscorer with 67 in 124 Tests (second behind Victor Matfield’s 127 caps) – his haul of tries is second only to Japan’s Daisuke Ohata (69) in international rugby.
South Africa’s 2018 has instilled confidence back in the famous green jersey and that will fill the players and a nation with confidence going into a World Cup year.
And even though the Boks face the world champion All Blacks in their pool in Japan in 2019, and a likely quarter-final showdown with No2 ranked team Ireland, Habana believes that will act as a driving force for Erasmus and Co.
Habana added: “There’s a lot more joy and pride in being a Springboks supporter and we know we’re going to play New Zealand in the World Cup pool stages and perhaps a quarter-final against Ireland if it works out like that.
“But to win a World Cup you have to beat the best in the world. It’s a good time to be a Springboks supporter but we know there’s a long way to go. But it’s exciting.”
Brian O’Driscoll has described Joe Schmidt as the man with the “midas touch” and believes the next logical step for the New Zealander could be leading the British & Irish Lions on their 2021 tour to South Africa.
Schmidt announced on Monday that he would be leaving his role as head coach of the men in green after next year’s World Cup in Japan – with his assistant and former Great Britain rugby league captain and England defence coach Andy Farrell taking the reins.
Farrell left his role with the Red Rose following a disastrous World Cup campaign on home soil in 2015. England were the first hosts to fail to reach the knockout stages and incoming coach Eddie Jones sacked Farrell as well as the rest of Stuart Lancaster’s backroom staff.
He subsequently joined Schmidt’s entourage in January 2016 as defence coach ahead of the 2016 Six Nations Championship – and the pair have since constructed the most formidable Ireland squad of all time.
During five years in charge, Schmidt has become the most successful coach in Irish history (during the professional era), boasting a 74.2-per-cent win percentage – surpassing Eddie O’Sullivan’s 64.9 per cent record of 50 wins and 27 defeats during seven years at the helm.
Schmidt has been in charge of 15 fewer games but trails O’Sullivan’s win record of 50 by just four, and boasts by far the biggest trophy cabinet.
Schmidt has led Ireland to three Six Nations championships, including this year’s triple crown and Grand Slam glory.
Even more impressive accolades sitting among those trophies for the men from the Emerald Isle are a pair of glittering victories against the formidable two-time reigning world champions New Zealand.
And Ireland legend O’Driscoll insists after disappointments early on in his coaching career, Schmidt has overseen a golden era in Irish rugby.
“He was very successful at Leinster, he should have been more successful at Clermont than he was. I think they only won one Top 14 title and got to a few finals,” O’Driscoll told Sport360 on Thursday at the Dubai Rugby Sevens, where he is appearing in his role as an HSBC ambassador.
As assistant, Clermont claimed the 2010 Top 14 title after falling at the final hurdle the previous two years.
Schmidt then became head coach in his own right at Leinster, who he led to back-to-back Heineken Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2012, as well as 2013’s Pro12 and European Challenge Cup double. He moved on to Ireland after that and the rest is history.
“He’s got the Midas touch,” added O’Driscoll, Ireland’s record cap holder with 133.
“I’m sure he’ll have aspirations of a little Lions ticket perhaps in two years’ time and why not, watch this space.
“He’s obviously a very clever coach but he covers every inch and leaves nothing to chance. Paul O’Connell made a really good point that loads of the best coaches are schoolteachers because they’re used to being able to deliver a message to a group and dealing with young players.
“If you have the right idea and the right way to verbalise it and you instill a belief in a team as he’s done, it’s a pretty potent formula. He makes you feel as though what he’s saying is the right way.”
One of the UAE’s favourite sporting events, the Dubai Rugby Sevens, is fast approaching and will take place at the Sevens Stadium from November 29-December 1.
Whether it’s your first time attending the event or if you’re a seasoned pro, here is a look at our top tips to help get the most out of your weekend.
If you’re based around Dubai or further afield, it’s important to arrive early and avoid the entry queue, which normally starts to build around midday.
Don’t be one of the people who tries to arrive fashionably late because you’ll miss all the fun.
On Sevens weekend, arrive early and make the most of the day!
If you have loose hips like Shakira or are simply in the mood for a consistently good atmosphere, the dnata stand is where it all happens.
You might have some vocal rugby enthusiasts barking from the throngs of the upper stand, but it’s all in good spirits.
If you’re looking for a break away from the dnata stand, the social leagues on pitches two and three offer a combination of solid rugby and plenty of laughs.
The Dubai Sevens is all about what you wear, so if you want to stand out from the crowd then it’s advised to dress up.
Some of the prominent costumes from 2017 include elves, minions, Where’s Wally, Superman, The Incredibles and even a man dressed up as a vending machine.
Do your research early and give yourself enough time to buy or make a unique outfit.
We all love to comfort eat at times, but with many food trucks available at the ground (Bidi Bondi, Left Bank, Giraffe), why not go for a healthy option.
It’ll have you feeling mentally sharp instead of the peaks and troughs that come with feasting on greasy burgers and chips.
It’s always tricky when you have thousands of people battling for taxis at the end of the night, however, last year the queues moved fast and there are even free buses available that bring people back to various locations.
Another option to avoid queuing is to use the Uber or Careem apps and ask the driver to collect you at the gates of the Sevens Stadium.
Barasti, Irish Village and McGettigans are the most popular venues for those making evening plans.
With the weather cooling down, Barasti is the best choice and offers good music and plenty of space. If you have visitors over for the weekend, it’s a safe bet for a consistent night.