Rassie stars for no excuses Boks

2018-06-25 13:22
Rassie Erasmus (Getty)

Cape Town - The defeat in Cape Town was a flat way for the Springboks to end a winning series against England in the same way as the draw in Port Elizabeth in 2012 was, but there is a good reason for South African fans to feel that this time lessons will be learned.

Forget what has happened on the playing field, it is the way new Bok coach Rassie Erasmus conducts himself off the field, the calmness he exudes which was reflected in the two comeback wins, the confidence that comes from that, and the things he says, that should be the biggest source of hope that Bok fans can take from the 2-1 series win, according to the supersport.com website.

At times it appears Erasmus is going out of his way to be diametrically opposite to his predecessor Allister Coetzee when it comes to dealing with disappointment or looking at what went wrong. Perhaps he spent too long watching Coetzee talk on television when he himself returned from Ireland last November and watched the final few weeks of what was to be Coetzee’s final tour as coach.

Remember how Coetzee appeared to be hell-bent on avoiding the big issues, to the point that he appeared to be in constant denial. There was an interview he had with a Welsh television station just before the Test in Cardiff where he made out that it had been a great year and that the negative noise coming from back home was just misguided panic.

In the initial phases of his tenure, and admittedly it is very early still, it is becoming clear that you are not going to get any of that from Erasmus. He will stare the issue down, be honest about it, and not only just with the players, but the media and by extension the wider public too.

He didn’t duck the Elton Jantjies bullet after the 25-10 Newlands Test. He responded to the question by saying he had taken the player off because the mistakes were mounting, and tellingly said that Jantjies was an adult and would admit that his performance just wasn’t good enough. Perhaps he is trying to inspire the same honesty from the players as he himself conducts himself, just as his work ethic is being spread into the group and has become infectious.

But he also took part of the blame for Jantjies’ performance. Whether he admitted that the selection itself was a mistake or whether it was the way he dealt with Jantjies and prepared him for the game beforehand was the mistake wasn’t made clear, but he did say there was a mistake made.

“Maybe I should look at myself with regards to Elton,” said Erasmus. “Maybe in making bad calls I made it more difficult and brought extra pressure. I said beforehand that the players must swim and get through it, deal with the pressure, and on the outside people may have thought this was a last chance saloon for him. But we didn’t just learn about Elton today, we learned a lot about our kicking game and other things.”

Erasmus was also honest about the referee, Glen Jackson, who he said blew the game as the Boks had been told to anticipate he would blow. Skipper Siya Kolisi joined the coach in saying that the Boks were at fault for not adjusting quick enough to his law interpretations at the breakdowns, even though Erasmus had issued a final warning about it just five minutes before kick-off.

Perhaps his most honest admission of all though was that he may have got aspects of the build-up wrong that impacted on the intensity with which the team played on the day, and this played a big role in helping England avoid the ignominy of a 3-0 series whitewash that could have placed an inordinate amount of pressure on their coach Eddie Jones heading into the autumn.

“I am sad to say that we didn’t get up for this game and I will do my homework. There were a few things I did wrong last week,” he admitted.

“We didn’t pitch collectively and we didn’t bring the same intensity we played with in the last two weeks.”

Indeed, and that and Jantjies’ stuttering display at flyhalf, plus a generally poor performance when it came to the kicking game and the penalties given away at the breakdown, led to the boot being comprehensively on the other foot this time compared to the last hour of the two previous Tests.

England adjusted back to their old “Boring, boring England” template, something that was anyway demanded by the conditions, and it worked for them. Their coach had instructed the players to forget about the external noise and just focus on each play as its own separate event, and that worked for them too.

The Boks couldn’t get out of their own half, particularly after halftime, and it wasn’t just Jantjies to blame in the game generally for the poor field kicking. Faf de Klerk wasn’t as precise with his kicking as he had been and while Warrick Gelant had a good first start as a fullback in terms of his fielding of kicks, the exiting was poor.

It all added up to a game that Erasmus’ predecessor would have been adamant was a good experience because his men would learn from it, and Erasmus did say that the wings would now be more prepared for a good accurate aerial bombardment and the team would be more ready for a wet weather game against the All Blacks should it happen that they are greeted by a wet day when they play New Zealand in September.

However, his departure from what might have been said this time last year was also abundantly stark and might have summed up the difference between the two coaches: “Learning is only learning if you adapt what you have learned at the next game, otherwise it is just talk.”

That next game is the first Rugby Championship Test against Argentina on August 18. With Erasmus you never get "just talk" and by the time that Durban game arrives he would have done a lot of thinking and no doubt made some changes. His commitment to honesty, to himself as much as to those around him, strengthens the chances of the adaptations strengthening the challenge and the Boks being better next time.

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