VIDEO: Boks lost the battle, but not the war
WORLD CUP REACTION: South African coach Rassie Erasmus vowed to scrap all the way to the Final, after their disappointing 13-23 loss to New Zealand in their tough Pool B opener.
Erasmus is backing his beaten Springboks to bounce back and become the first side to win a World Cup after having lost a match in the pool stages.
No team in the previous eight World Cups recovered from a group stage defeat to go on and take the trophy.
But Erasmus is optimistic this pattern, which has existed since 1987, can be broken in 2019.
“I guess that is the challenge we will have to now take,” Erasmus told a post-match media briefing.
“History is there to break.
“Now we have to fight.
“But we can’t moan about this performance. We just have to work really hard.
“They deserved to win. They scored two tries to one.
“And the penalty count,” Erasmus said of a penalty count of nine to four.
“We fought our way back but we just couldn’t convert [our chances] inside their 22. And if you concede 10 penalties against them, they will kick you all over the place.
“It’s unbelievably well disciplined by them. That battle we lost.
“Discipline was our biggest downfall. I don’t think we can really moan about anything, but just say well done to them.”
Erasmus was in ebullient form, however, when asked whether his team could battle back in search of a third World Cup title after previously winning in 1995 and 2007.
“I think we can fight back,” he said.
“If you’re grouped with New Zealand in a pool, you’ve got a good chance of not going undefeated through your pool.
“Then you have to fight back and get to the Final not being unbeaten, so we have to go that route.”
Erasmus, who has been credited with turning South African fortunes around after a few disastrous years, and appointed their first black captain in flank Siya Kolisi, backed the All Blacks as favourites for a third successive World Cup title.
“For me, New Zealand is definitely the favourites for the World Cup, they’ve always been and I’ve never had a doubt about that,” said the former director of rugby at Irish province Munster.
“We’re creeping a little bit closer in challenging them, but they will have different tactical challenges from Northern Hemisphere teams,” he said, naming England, Ireland and Wales as teams that would push New Zealand in ways the Boks had not.
Erasmus added: “We have to give all credit to New Zealand, when we had territorial and scoreboard pressure, they showed experience, they’re a world-class team.
“It’s a combination of them putting pressure on us and us not handling the pressure well. They were just good on their day.
“They didn’t ruffle our defence, but they scored from our mistakes. They know how to ramp up the pressure as soon as they get on the scoreboard.”
Turning to South Africa’s coming weeks in Japan, Erasmus said they were not counting any chickens.
“Before we start mentioning quarter-finals, we have an important game against Italy along the way. I know we have Canada and Namibia, but in the last two years we’ve had slippery games against Italy,” he said.