Cape Town - Rassie Erasmus will have a clear message to
deliver to his players as the arrival of the Lions players brings his Springbok
squad selected for the forthcoming Rugby Championship up to full complement in
Stellenbosch on Wednesday.
In essence the message won’t differ from the one he
delivered before the June series against England or for that matter in the
alignment camps before that. But with new additions to the group, this first
day with the whole squad together will be important in terms of laying down the
ground rules and being clear about the objectives, according to the supersport.com website.
There has been much talk from Erasmus since he took over
about next year’s World Cup and so far he has been prepared to be brave and
take risks to the end of building depth. It could well be argued that he
sacrificed the last test against England at Newlands, and the chance of a 3-0
series sweep, to experimentation.
But that does not mean that Erasmus doesn’t see the
importance of getting results in the here and now. As he is fond of saying, he
has bought into the reality that a Bok coach that does not win does not stay
“We all know that if the results don’t come then in a couple
of weeks’ time you guys are going to be asking me about my future,” said
Erasmus at a press briefing earlier this week.
“There are three things, three pillars to our goal-setting
and I will explain it to the players again when the Lions players join on Wednesday.
Firstly we need to be winning, secondly we need to be transforming (in terms of
racial representation within the group), and thirdly we need to be building
“Winning is the primary thing. Just like I said before the
June matches, I know I won’t still be sitting here if we have a terrible Rugby
Championship. But we also need to build towards being successful. In saying
that, I am not saying judge me on the Rugby World Cup.”
So far Erasmus has delivered on the three pillars he refers
to. The loss to Wales with an under-strength team in Washington was
disappointing but there were mitigating circumstances while the defeat in the
last test against England can be understood, so the series win against Eddie
Jones’ men over-shadows the fact that at this embryonic stage of his tenure
Erasmus’ win record is still just 50%.
The Boks showed some impressive elements to their game in
the two wins over England, including the composure required to fight back twice
from big deficits. That composure and calmness under pressure was not there
before and the turn-around is because of the assurance and composure brought by
Erasmus to his job.
The series win over England was achieved with a team that
showed a good racial mix and was led by the Boks’ first black captain. Over the
four tests, Erasmus also introduced several new players into the international
arena, and while not all of the selections came off, the coach felt afterwards
that he had learned quite a bit about who was potentially up to it and who
South Africa experienced a disappointing Super Rugby season
in 2018, and while the Lions did make the final and finished second on the
overall log, most people accept that wouldn’t have been the case had it not
been for the crazy machinations of the competition format.
But the fact they did get it together once key players had
returned from injury - they were probably pretty close to being the second best
team in the competition by the time the business end arrived - and were more
competitive in the decider in Christchurch will have brought some confidence.
“The Lions lost the final but they were still better than 13
other teams in the competition,” said the Bok coach.
Erasmus drew on his own experience as a player to back up
his argument that the Super Rugby failures should not have an impact on the Bok
performances in the Championship that starts for the South Africans with the
clash with Argentina in Durban next Saturday.
“I think the impact on you psychologically is an individual
thing, but I know that when Nick Mallett was coaching us back in 1998 we were
very successful as a Springbok team and yet the teams were struggling in Super
Rugby,” said Erasmus.
“I was playing for the Cats and we were languishing around
12th in a 12 team competition. Only one local team challenged for a place in
the play-offs in those days and finished about fourth overall. Yet when we
played for the Boks we went unbeaten for most of the year (and won the
Sri-Nations for the first time).
“Some people see losing a lot in Super Rugby as baggage and
there is a feeling you have to get the monkey off your back, but it differs
from player to player. For me the way we turned around the first England test,
recovering from a 24-3 deficit early on, to win the series makes me not nervous
Erasmus knows repeating the 1998 feat by winning the southern
hemisphere competition in its new incarnation as the Rugby Championship (since
Argentina joined the Boks, Wallabies and All Blacks) is a tough assignment. He
agrees that the All Blacks, who will start as clear favourites to win the
tournament again, have an awesome squad.
“What impresses me about the All Blacks group is the spread
of their players. They don’t have a whole lot of players from one franchise
taking up the key positions. They have three scrum halves from different
franchises, maybe the locks and props are from the same region, but otherwise
it is a case of a Hurricanes player next to a Chiefs or Highlanders player.
“It makes the rest of us in the coaching world look at it
and wonder and ask how they do it? They have incredible versatility and it is
nonsense to say all the Kiwi provinces play the same. They don’t. They play
very different styles. And yet when the players come together as the All Blacks
it just works for them and the team gels.
“That versatility and experience makes it very challenging
for the rest of us. But then we knew that already. Everybody knows that.”
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