South Africa captain Fourie due Preez is hailing his side’s resolve after they avoided becoming the “worst Springbok team of all-time” by reaching a World Cup quarter-final against Wales.
The two-time world champions saw their 2015 tournament start in the worst possible way, beaten 34-32 by outsiders Japan in their opening match – one of the all-time sporting upsets.
But they bounced back to top Pool B with three straight wins and will now face Wales in a last-eight clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
“It was obviously a massive shock but it could have gone much worse,” du Preez told reporters on Friday as he reflected on the fall-out from the Japan game.
“We had Samoa next, which was a very big battle for us and then Scotland, who are on the up. We could have lost three in a row and we would have been the worst Springbok team of all-time.
“There was massive pressure for us and I am very proud how each member of the team and management team stood up after that,” the scrum-half added.
“We could either lie down or stand up and I think we showed that we stood up and I think tomorrow we are going to stand up again.”
Du Preez was a member of the Springboks side that won the World Cup in 2007, defeated the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and scored a 3-0 series win against the All Blacks in 2010.
His talent was spotted when current South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer gave him his start with the Blue Bulls in South Africa’s domestic competition at 19.
But a successful Test career which began in 2004 appeared ended when a shoulder injury curbed du Preez’ ambitions during a disappointing 2011 World Cup for the Springboks which ended with a quarter-final loss to Australia.
He headed to Japan to play for Suntory Sungoliath but at Meyer’s pleading, returned to Springbok colours in 2013.
A knee injury, however, sidelined him again in 2014 and almost stopped him going to this World Cup, with the 33-year-old only declaring himself fit weeks before the tournament.
Once in England, he found himself unexpectedly thrust into the captaincy after first Jean de Villiers, with a broken jaw that ended the centre’s international career, and lock Victor Matfield (hamstring) were sidelined.
“It was obviously a very big compliment from the coach,” du Preez said.
“I’ve worked really hard.
“It was a long battle for me to get back on the field. Then I played in Japan, everything went well and I had a nice off-season.
“Then I had quite a bad knee injury, so two or three weeks before the World Cup I wasn’t sure if I was still going to play rugby.
“I am very lucky to be here today. It was quite a mental battle, a physical battle as well.”