Jesse Kriel on how the Springboks' team culture is fueling their success

Jesse Kriel on how the Springboks' team culture is fueling their success

The Springboks' incredible back-to-back Rugby World Cup victories have led many to wonder just exactly what the secret behind their success is.

The Boks were serious underdogs in Japan in 2019 but managed to exceed everyone's expectations and make it to the final before securing a memorable 32-12 victory over heavy favourites England to capture their third World Cup crown.

Last year in France, the likes of the host nation, Ireland and the All Blacks arguably had the more talented squads on paper, but once again it was the defending champions who defied the odds, coming through one brutal knockout match after the other to lift the trophy once more.

Recently, a French professor specialising in high performance concluded that it was South Africa's "spirit" and "loyalty" that were the key factors behind their Rugby World Cup triumph in France, and Bok centre Jesse Kriel appeared to confirm as much during a recent chat with former Springbok stars Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger.

Asked if there was any tension with Lukhanyo Am as they compete for the No 13 jersey, Kriel confirmed the message from Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is one that helps foster a sense of unity while also quashing any potential rivalries within the team.

"A lot of people like to make it up as it is one and two and this and that, but Lukhanyo Am and I share a special relationship. We are really, really good mates on and off the field," Kriel said on the Boks Office podcast.

"That's the really special thing in the squad where guys actually want the best for each other, and it's very rare in professional sport. During the World Cup, when he [Am] came back, he was sending me personal messages on the opposition 13 that I was playing against.

"He was mimicking opposition outside centres in training, trying to be the best Gael Fickou that he could be during the week.

"From that aspect, that is what Rassie always speaks about is having the right people, not necessarily the best people, because I mean, he said to us many times, 'there are much better rugby players than you guys all around the world that could be in the team', but he always speaks about having the right people," Kriel added.

"That is a very important thing because, when it comes to squad selection and things like it, obviously, you're disappointed if you are not playing, but you understand that you've got a role to play.

"Everyone is so clear of their roles, whether you're in the team or whether you're not in the team, whether you are on the water, different things like that. Just understanding your role, putting your ego to the side, and understanding what's the best for the team.

"Understanding that there's something bigger than yourself that you are playing for. You play for your country, and it sounds like a cliche, everyone plays for their country, but I think we've really got something special here, and we speak about it a lot as a team as well. We are constantly reminding each other of the importance of wearing the Springbok jersey."

Responding to Kriel's admission, Burger and De Villiers - both former Springbok captains - underlined the importance of creating that kind of culture within a team, even as they acknowledged that the Boks haven't always operated in that way.

"I love the fact that you are competitive, but you are trying to make your mates better," Burger said.

"That wasn't always the case [with the Springboks], certainly not when we started in the early 2000s.

"We worked hard at it over the time, and with the bulk of our generation, we sort of got that attitude.

"You push each other hard if I'm playing better rugby, then the next guy, for example, he's going to push himself harder to become better, and that's how you create this squad with depth. It's so lekker to see if you can add to your mate's success; I think that's one of the biggest tricks in life."

De Villiers added: "There is nothing worse than being on a training pitch and there is someone sulking."

Kriel agreed and emphasised that rugby is a team game, and if that is not your attitude, then you are better off playing an individual sport.

"When you got up there to get your World Cup gold medal, everyone gets the medal," he said. "Winning together is better than winning alone. If you want to win alone, go play tennis or another individual sport."

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