Former All Blacks wing Joe Rokocoko has lifted the lid on how tough it was to play the Springboks during his international career, labelling the South African national side as “ruthless bullies”.
In a wide-ranging interview with Sport24, the 37-year-old – who hung up his boots last year after rounding out his playing career at Top 14 club Racing 92, where remains as pat of the coaching staff – played the Boks 15 times between 2003 and 2010.
The 68-test wing scored nine times in those matches, but said the South Africans provided the sternest test of any rugby nation for the All Blacks.
“It was one match I made sure my preparation was on point. When you faced the Springboks you had to be up for it both mentally and physically because if you weren’t, you would get bullied,” Rokocoko told Sport24.
“You would get chucked around and physically dominated if you didn’t bring your physical presence to match South Africa
“As All Blacks, we always prided ourselves on the tests against the Springboks, which were the pinnacle.
“Mentally, you also had to be attuned and we would say to ourselves, ‘Ok, we are going to play against the giants’. Once you stepped onto that field there was no holding back.
“Yes, sometimes people said we should be the favourites but a few times we felt like the underdogs in terms of size and passion. We had to reach another level to match the Springbok forward pack.
“What I will always remember about facing the Boks is the high balls I had to field.
“But the thing that stands out the most is the respect we had for each other. The Boks were ruthless and bullies on the field but off the field they were just genuine people to hang around with.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 20, 2020
Rokocoko added he was unsurprised that the Springboks took out last year’s World Cup title in Japan, describing Rassie Erasmus’ side as “sleeping giants” who fully realised their potential once the coach-turned-director of rugby came on board.
“The Springboks’ game plan was on point as they knew when to kick and when to run,” Rokocoko told Sport24.
“The Boks have players now who are very mobile and they have the skill-set of offloading and keeping the ball alive. It’s hard enough trying to tackle a big guy but when he smashes you and offloads to another big guy, it carries some serious momentum.
“When the All Blacks lost their semifinal against England, I was rooting for the Springboks to win the World Cup.”
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