At the end of 2017, the Springbok team under Allister Coetzee found themselves in one of their worst positions since readmission.
From second on the World Rugby Rankings in 2015 Coetzee’s team slipped to seventh in 2017 and 2018.
In the time that Coetzee was in charge of the Springboks, they played 25 test matches won 11 lost 12 with 2 drawn, which translates into a 44% win-record.
Since the game turned professional only Carel du Plessis has a worse record with 38%.
In this time Coetzee’s Springboks also registered their first-ever home loss against Argentina and a loss against Italy with the largest defeat in 111 years at the hands of the All Blacks in Albany.
In came Rassie Erasmus and with only 18 Test matches left before the start of the World Cup had a massive job on his hands to rebuild the Springboks to their rightful standing in World Rugby.
One of the first noticeable qualities of Erasmus was his openness and honesty with the media and the fans. Erasmus did not shy away from telling the public exactly what his plans were doing and how was going to go about achieving them.
This would have given the players also a great sense of calmness knowing that they are working with a coach that is going to be upfront and honest about the way he is going to run the team and it wasn’t long before we could see the difference in the players in the team and the results.
His first task was a home series against England a, but to add a bit of spice Wales and SA Rugby agreed to a test match in the USA the week before the series kicked off.
Rassie decided to pick two teams and sent one to the USA and the other stayed behind to prepare for the English.
Unfortunately the test against Wales ended up in a loss(22-20) but some young players got their chance to show what they are capable of.
On debut guys like Ox Nche, Jason Jenkins, Ivan van Zyl, Makazole Mapimpi, Andre Esterhuizen, Travis Ismaiel, Sikhumbuszo Notshe, Thomas Du Toit, Akker van der Merwe, Marvin Orie, Embrose Papier and Robert Du Preez got their first taste of international rugby.
From these players that made their debut Makazole Mapimpi have made the World Cup 31-man squad.
Erasmus also appointed Siya Kolisi as his captain which made him the first black player to captain the Springboks. This did not just unite the players behind Kolisi but also the country.
The first two tests against the English, the Springboks had poor starts with England racing away with the scoreboard but two great comebacks gave them two wins out of three.
On Erasmus checklist, the first job was done.
From the Springbok side that played in that first two tests against England, 16 players made it to Erasmus 32-man World Cup squad a year later.
Even then Erasmus had his frontline players in his mind which he believed will form part of the core World Cup squad.
Next up was the Rugby Championship and a new challenge. Argentina gave the team a challenge but they managed to come away with a win.
The Springboks had a bad game against the Pumas in Argentina and just did not get into the game.
Next up Erasmus men went to Australia and with the World Cup in mind, Erasmus again tested some of his other players in the squad and they again were not up for the challenge which Australia presented in Brisbane.
Some supporters were starting to worry about the results not going our way and two poor performances against Argentina and Australia did not generate much confidence ahead of the All Black test in Wellington.
Not sure I saw anything from the Boks that would get them within 15 of the All Blacks next week. Decision-making poor. Handling horrible. Little composure all round. Conspired to lose a game they could have won #AUSvRSA
— Brenden Nel (@BrendenNel) September 8, 2018
Having been given a thumping the previous year by the All Blacks and not having beaten them since 2014 nobody really gave them a chance.
But the players put everything on the line and got one of the memorable wins against the All Blacks in New Zealand.
Who could forget this picture of Pieter-Steph du Toit after the match?
With this win, the public and media started to realize just maybe Erasmus is on the right track in bringing the pride back in this Springbok jersey.
From that team that beat New Zealand that day in Wellington, 19 players are now part of Rassie Erasmus 31-man World Cup squad.
The return matches in South Africa against Australia and New Zealand further showed that something special is beginning to develop with this group of players and the coaching staff.
They beat Australia 23-12 and should have beaten the All Blacks as well but a last-minute try from Savea turned the game around with the All Blacks winning 32-30.
Next was the End-of-Year tour with England up first. Some controversy with a late penalty that was not given eventually saw England squeeze through with 12-11.
The next two games left the Springboks to search hard for wins against the French and Scotland. That was two very important wins for the team specially the one against France which they won in the final minutes of that test.
The last tour match was against Wales and it seemed one test just too many for this team as they did not really put in the performance we expected against the Welsh.
Ending the year with a 50% win record was ok but not great for Erasmus but more importantly, he more or less had the core of his 23 man squad.
What was left was a shortened Rugby Championship and one that Erasmus declared he wanted to win before going into the World Cup, he felt that the confidence would be invaluable
There weren’t too many pundits who thought this would happen with a schedule that left the Springboks with the Aussies at home in round one and the All Blacks and Argentina away from home.
Erasmus again decided beforehand that he would split his group of 40 players in two and send some of his core players to New Zealand before the Aussie test match.
This worked perfectly for him with his team beating Australia at home with a bonus point and a week later playing to an exciting draw against the All Blacks in New Zealand.
This not just put the Springboks on top of the log with one test to go but also gave them another boost ahead of the World Cup.
The Springboks made easy work of the Pumas in the final match and won the Championship for the first time in 10 years.
There was a final warm-up test against the Pumas in Pretoria and it was always going to be the fringe players getting a final chance.
Although not the best test match from the Springboks, they still managed to pull it through to take Erasmus overall record to 10 wins from 18 test matches with a 55,5% win record.
Within 18 test matches, Erasmus has created the believe not just in the players but also the public that we can go to the World Cup as a contender.
All the focus now is on that first pool match against the All Blacks. There is one more warm-up test left this Friday against Japan.
As it stands now it points to the Springboks and the All Blacks making the quarter-finals out of Pool B and they should be playing Ireland or Scotland.
One can not throw out Japan who has target the quarter-final as their goal.
What happens from there no one knows because anything can happen in a playoff match and we have seen this over the years when it comes to World Cup playoff matches.
Winning the World Cup or not, credit must be given to Erasmus and his team on how they turned the Springboks around within 18 test matches.
From being at the Springboks lowest point in history to be a contender for the World Cup speaks volume of Erasmus and the way he has made sure Springbok rugby is alive again.
Even bigger than the change Erasmus has made with the team is the way he conducted himself as coach and how transparent he has been with players, the media and fans.
Now we can all be right behind Siya Kolisi and his Springbok team as we again can hope for World Cup Glory.