Johannesburg - By the time you read this, the Springboks will have either won or lost their test against England.
READ: Erasmus lauds Springbok character in victory
Depending on how they have done, they will be the best Bok side that has drawn a breath or the worst our “discerning” supporters have seen, with little or no context to temper the wild pendulum swing in coming to either conclusion.
There were already signs of that in the dreadful defeat against Wales in the US last weekend, where coach Rassie Erasmus’ unprecedented six-year contract was immediately brought up, with one logically challenged punter saying captain “Siya Kolisi’s Boks” were off to an embarrassing start despite the poor blighter watching the Washington event on TV like the rest of us.
READ: Siya Kolisi - It was a beautiful game
It’s the lot of a Springbok coach and his captain, and from Erasmus’ perspective the defeat in his first test in charge, losing out on the services of Pieter de Villiers – his preferred scrum coach – and having the experience of Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn not show up mean the job just got harder.
But even in a “the pint is half full” country like ours, those were almost blessings in disguise.
It’s not the South African way to go sifting for positives in the embers of a defeat, but, in retrospect, the loss to Wales made Erasmus’ selection for the England game much easier because the “seven or eight” players he had earmarked for yesterday’s test from that match found it easier to accept not having a starting role due to the general ineptitude shown against the Welsh.
According to those in the know – and this is a little beyond the grasp of an 83kg weakling like this columnist – De Villiers’ departure, for whatever reason, hurts because he is one of the best in the scrum coaching business.
One would also venture that, with Erasmus being such a big fan of uniformity when it comes to thinking (think director of rugby and head coach, and the fact that he has always come as a package with right-hand man Jacques Nienaber at all of his jobs), this would have added to the blow.
But in Matt Proudfoot, Erasmus gains a more rounded, not to mention dynamic, coach than the consultant De Villiers was. Proudfoot’s refusal to simply walk away from his job as Bok assistant coach once Allister Coetzee left suggests a leader capable of the kind of independent thought that will come in handy once things get too “aligned” in Erasmus’ hand-picked coaching circle.
And for those who love their Boks teams a little on the nostalgic side, now might be a good time to look away because I’m about to suggest that not having Du Plessis and Steyn’s experience in camp isn’t altogether a bad thing.
Distinguished as their Bok careers have been, I think it would be pushing it to say they were the ultimate team men, which, ironically, would be the cornerstone of the value of their experience in this scenario.
The questions to ask are: Would Du Plessis really come back to play second fiddle to anyone – even Malcolm Marx – in the name of mentorship? And how often has Steyn upped and flown the Boks’ nest when someone in camp has checked him skeef?
To his eternal credit, Erasmus has allowed none of his obstacles to paralyse him like most of his predecessors have.
He’s named the first black Springbok captain in Kolisi and the first black front row to start a test (it’s not as significant as Kolisi, but such are our margins in this country), and managed to get the buy-in of the Super Rugby franchises, which is no mean feat.
Those who have a grainy black and white picture of what the Bok team should look like have criticised Erasmus’ bold calls as cheapening their beloved Springbok colours, while some black fans have accused him of disingenuously playing to the gallery.
But the fact remains that Erasmus, in just a few months, has made his tenure more unprecedented than just the length of his contract and breadth of influence by taking a sledgehammer to some of the barriers that have held our rugby back.
Having seen how happy his team looks this week, long may he continue.
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