Gentle giant RG Snyman got all emotional when reflecting on the dark times he endured before stepping off the bench on Saturday night to become the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup semi-final try-scoring hero.
Just two years ago, the 6ft 9in lock’s career seemed to be in tatters. He’d just suffered his second torn ACL injury in the space of 12 months and the outlook was bleak.
He had joined Munster with a view to becoming the engine room linchpin who could lift them out of the doldrums. Instead, two seasons at the club essentially amounted to a miserly four appearances.
The 28-year-old, though, inspiringly refused to bend. Last season’s comeback culminated in a dream URC title-winning run off the bench away to the Stormers in Cape Town, and he was again left feeling like he was top of the world just 21 weeks later.
A couple of hours later, he was in the middle of a mixed zone in the bowels on Stade de France reflecting on the madness of it all, going from a hospital bed where there seemed to be no tomorrow to leaving his country completely overjoyed.
“It’s obviously been a difficult road but it’s honestly such an honour for me to be back in the squad and to be able to play,” enthused Snyman with a smile when asked by RugbyPass to reflect on his arduous journey from injury rehab in Limerick to playing a crucial part in getting the Springboks through to a World Cup final against the All Blacks.
“We worked really hard to put ourselves in the best position and to give ourselves the opportunity to play in the final, so for me personally it feels unreal just to be playing my part in the team. It will probably only settle in after the World Cup.”
The moral of Snyman’s motivating comeback story is to never give up no matter what the difficult circumstances are. A bit like the Springboks and their refusal to lose.
“Exactly and that is something we speak about a lot in the week leading up to games, a lot of people in South Africa never give up and that’s where we get that from, that spirit from South Africa that drives us.”
It was on the second phase play from a lineout that Snyman successfully drove at the England line, spinning around to dot the ball down despite the hold-up attentions of Joe Marchant and Jonny May. He was chuffed.
“I could feel them trying to get underneath me and luckily I could spin out of it and get the ball down and then looking up just seeing three or four guys fuckin’, sorry, screaming and shouting at me. Yeah, it was brilliant.
“Honestly, anyone could have scored that try. Deon Fourie ran such a beautiful line off the back of that lineout. There was so much space on the openside, actually anyone who would have gotten the ball would have scored the try.”
“They refuse to give up…”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 22, 2023
Snyman was an open book regarding his hot take on the semi-final, hoovering up questions from elsewhere about the latest successful detonation of the bomb squad and his pack’s scrummaging prowess which helped to swing momentum and earn the chance for that famed winning kick.
There was also a wonderful throwback to 1995, the last time the Springboks faced the All Blacks in the World Cup final.
Kicking off with his team’s judicious use once again of its bench, Snyman, a 46th-minute introduction for Eben Etzebeth, reckoned: “It’s just a lot of hard work and I must say the leadership group we have is something special.
“It keeps us mentally in the game and even with Siya (Kolisi) having gone off the field already, the rest of the guys really made the step up and kept us sharp and kept us in the game at the end.
“Us as a group, we really understand our roles and we know what we need to do and if the situation needs the bomb squad to step up and finish the game off like we did today and last week, then that is what we do. We all understand what we need to do and we all understand our roles really well.
“It’s also the input we give to each other sitting on the bench. We constantly make plans and you know having guys like Handre and Willie (le Roux) on the bench also helps a lot because they can see the game from a different perspective and they have that experience. It’s very important for us to just stick together and make sure when we go on we do that job.”
It wasn’t just about performing on the night, though, that got the Springboks through to the decider. Relentless training groundwork laid the essential foundation, with guys such as Marvin Orie revelling in replicating the role of England’s Maro Itoje.
“I can’t credit enough the guys that aren’t on the field in that 80 minutes. The prep that they do in the week and the amount of time they put in to actually study the opposition players and then show us those pictures in the week, I honestly can’t credit them enough. It’s unbelievable the work they do and the effort they put into that,” he said before specifically talking scrums.
“That’s the plan, get the fresh legs on and then put a bit more weight into it maybe. I don’t think we do anything differently, just again the way we train in the week is actually – we face tougher scrums in the week so I think that the thing… I have scrummed behind a couple of props in my career but I don’t think anyone comes close to the strength of Ox (Nche). He’s truly a special player.”
Just like the fixture that now awaits the Springboks. Snyman was only five months old when Francois Pienaar hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup aloft in Johannesburg, Joel Stransky’s drop goal enough to bag the extra-time victory. But he knows the tapestry of that exalted day inside out.
“It’s actually a special game to be part of,” he raved. “For me growing up, my grandfather would have taped all those 1995 games and that is what I grew up watching, that is how I learned rugby, so it’s basically from that game. Yeah, I find myself in a similar situation and it’s something truly special.”