Johannesburg - The realisation of a plan that he started
hatching a year ago will have brought Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus immense
satisfaction, but don’t expect there to be any let-up from the South Africans
because their series win against England has been secured.
Erasmus and his co-management members were emotional when
they embraced each other when the final whistle sounded on the 23-12 win that
put them 2-0 up and confirmed their superiority over a nation that not long ago
was ranked second in the world. And so they should have been, according to SuperSport.com.
Erasmus did not just start plotting the England demise when
he took over the Bok job earlier this year. When he returned home from his 18
month stint with Munster in Ireland last November, Erasmus spoke about how he
and Jacques Nienaber, his defence coach and right hand man, had started
plotting to overcome Eddie Jones’ team while they were still in Ireland.
Remember that regardless of whether or not Allister Coetzee
continued as Bok coach or not, Erasmus was contracted quite early last year to
return to South Africa as the SARU director of rugby, which meant he was going
to be in charge, as executive coach if you like, when this series arrived.
Back then of course England were still riding the crest of a
wave, with the defeat to Ireland that blotted their 2017 Six Nations campaign
their only defeat since the 2015 World Cup and their only reverse since Jones took
over as coach.
That position changed before this tour, with England losing
their way in the 2018 Six Nations, but that would not have changed Erasmus’
determination to put one over England, not least because while the pair are not
crazy about each other, he does have immense respect for Jones’ rugby brain and
his standing as a coach.
Saturday’s win was the fruition then of a lot of scheming,
planning and preparation, and while there has been a big switch in the 19
months since England easily beat Coetzee’s Boks at Twickenham to break a long
drought against the South Africans, the biggest change has been to the Boks
since Erasmus took charge.
Duane Vermeulen, who has been immense on the field and has
apparently played a big role in helping Siya Kolisi adjust to the captaincy,
spoke after the Bloemfontein game of the composure the players around him
showed both in Johannesburg and at Toyota Stadium when they were behind. He
reckoned it spoke to the massive promise and potential of this Bok team. He’s not
wrong and Erasmus is in agreement.
“The biggest improvement today was not being behind by 24
points early on and instead only 12. We got our composure back quicker this
time and it was good that we were able to adjust so quickly. We still make too
many mistakes but there was a lot of character shown out there,” said Erasmus.
As with Emirates Airlines Park, the momentum was with the
Boks once they got themselves on the scoreboard, but there was one big
difference this time - they tightened their defence and eradicated the problem
area that England exploited out wide in the early stages of both test matches
played so far.
“(Defence coach) Jacques was not talking at halftime so he
would have been very pleased that we were able to recover like that. In the last
67 minutes of the match they never scored any points and we scored 23 and I
would say that is the biggest positive we got from this game,” said Erasmus.
“Obviously the way we came back in the previous game had
given us confidence. We knew we could come back from record margins. In a way
those slow starts might have helped us as the players have learnt a lot from
them and gained a lot of confidence but we don’t want to start like that.”
No they don’t, and the Boks will also know that they can’t
afford to fall behind like that against a team like the All Blacks. England
have shown glimpses of potential on this tour and even though they have lost
five test matches in a row, it would be foolish to write off their World Cup
But there is a lot they have got wrong too on, and much of
it might revolve around the on-field leadership. They would have won in
Johannesburg had they adjusted their game when they were 24-3 ahead and
resolved to slow play down and kick more, and where they really lost it in
Bloemfontein was when their skipper Owen Farrell had his tizzy fit when tempers
flared in the first half.
Farrell had been leading the discussion about the need to
improve discipline in the build-up week and he certainly didn’t set a good
example. Perhaps his coach Eddie Jones will now be regretting his decision to
install Farrell as the captain in place of the unavailable Dylan Hartley. He
definitely didn’t set the example he should have at Toyota Stadium.
Deep down the Bok coaches will know that there is an extent
to which England conspired against themselves in this series, but the bottom
line is that the visitors fell away because they couldn’t cope with the
pressure applied by the Boks. `That isn’t something you would have anticipated
six months ago, let alone 19 months ago when England won so easily at
Twickenham when Bok rugby looked in complete disarray.
England will be determined to avoid the ignominy of a 3-0
whitewash when they play the final test at Newlands on Saturday but Erasmus
will want his team to improve further on their Bloemfontein showing and he
issued what the opposition could regard as a chilling warning after the second
“We are breathing easier and it is nice to have the series
wrapped up but next week we would like to make it 3-0. I am happy with the win
because of where it puts us in our process but this is all about our build-up
to the World Cup and every game is important,” he said.
Erasmus said he “will try a few things” in Cape Town because
he has been given some breathing space to do so, but don’t expect him to do
anything that will weaken the Bok chances of giving him what he wants, which is
a series clean sweep.
Not only would it be a big statement for South African
rugby, but it would also strike another blow to one of the biggest potential
challengers at next year’s World Cup. Every defeat England suffer heaps more
pressure on them and on their coach and the Boks shouldn’t mind that. For the
first time in a long while, the boot is on the other foot.
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