Rassie coasting to RWC – Jake

Jake White

Clive Woodward coached England at two Rugby World Cups between 1997 and 2004. In 1998, as part of their preparation for the 1999 RWC, England went to Australia and New Zealand, and they got a big hiding. England were whitewashed 76-0 in Brisbane and followed that two weeks later with a 64-22 loss in Dunedin.

Righting those wrongs was a focal point of Woodward’s plan for winning the 2003 RWC and he lined up matches against the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies as often as possible to grow the belief in his players.

England returned to the Antipodes in June of 2003 and edged New Zealand in Wellington (despite yellow cards to Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio) before stopping Australia in Melbourne.

Woodward later confirmed that victories against the southern hemisphere giants had provided a massive psychological boost. Jonny Wilkinson kicked a drop goal in the last minute of extra-time as England went on to beat the Wallabies in the 2003 Final.

And that’s what the Boks should be doing now, like Ireland did by taking their best team to Australia to win that series. Joe Schmidt wanted to teach his boys that they can stop the southern hemisphere teams and, in the last couple of years, Ireland have beaten New Zealand, South Africa and now they’ve won a series against the Wallabies. They have been psychologically hardened by those wins.

We’re getting to the point in South Africa where we’re continually losing against some teams, and that’s when the aura goes and the players forget how to win.

We’re going into the Rugby Championship with some boys who have played one Test match, and they’ve become one of 100 players in team history to have lost against Wales. That’s their experience of Springbok rugby.

Rassie Erasmus has let Duane Vermeulen go to Japan and it seems he’ll be bringing in another couple of guys for the Rugby Championship. He’s sold it to the rugby public on the basis that the Boks need to try a few things before the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which is in total contrast to the rest of the world where guys are saying the time for experimenting is over and it’s about getting continuity.

It was a masterstroke by Rassie to bring back Vermeulen but, as good as that was, you have to ask yourself how he would come to the conclusion that he doesn’t need Vermeulen for the next six Test matches.

The guy that everyone spoke of as the European-based player who made the most significant impact for South Africa against England; that guy has been released for the Rugby Championship.

The only logical way to explain it is that, unlike other national coaches, Rassie is not worried about keeping his job. There’s no doubt in my mind that if his job depended on results over the next two years, there’s no way Vermeulen would have been allowed to go to Japan.

Let’s use England as an example. Eddie Jones is under pressure and he’s been told to get back to winning ways. Do you think he would consider resting any of his best players in this situation, when he knows his job is on the line?

I know the answer: never. And that’s a guy who has won two of the last three Six Nations titles. Not even he gets a freebie to experiment.

What I hear from the Bok camp is that we’ve got such a short time to prepare for the World Cup and that’s why we’re bringing back overseas players, even if they haven’t played 30 Tests. But Vermeulen is allowed to go to Japan and there’s a chance he won’t play in South Africa before the World Cup.

This is not about villifying Duane for playing in Japan – JP Pietersen, Fourie du Preez and Bryan Habana were all given similar concessions. But if Duane is important enough to bring back from Toulon, and consider appointing him as the captain, why would you not have him involved in the next six Tests against the best teams in the world? These are the same teams that the northern hemisphere heavyweights are so eager to Test themselves against before the World Cup.

If Ireland see beating southern hemisphere sides consistently as a crucial step in the process to winning the World Cup, why has South Africa not learnt that lesson?

The same thing is going to happen with England at the end of the year and Eddie is going to pick his best team for the November tours.

I find it incredible that the Bok coach, after two of the worst seasons in team history, is under so little pressure that he’s released the most impactful forward, who he just brought back from overseas. And it’s even more incredible when you consider that the 30-Test rule was changed so that Rassie could pick his best side, and now he’s voluntarily allowed one of his best players to go back.

Some people will say that it will strengthen South Africa’s depth. But when the teams line up in Wellington in September, Vermeulen’s absence will swing more confidence from the Boks to the All Blacks.

When players are allowed to negotiate where and when they’re available to play for South Africa, that’s how you lose your edge as a rugby powerhouse.

- Jake White

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    I think you answer this in your last paragraph. What if Vermeulen Is injured and cannot participate in the world cup? Is it all fall down at RWC time, or do we try and put in place options with the short time we have left to do so?
    The goal must, at this late stage, surely be the RWC and not the Rugby championship!
    Whitely has a lengthy history of injury…..so do we Bank on him being fit if Duan is not available, or do we start to give game time to alternatives like Dan Du Preeze, or his brother, for example, so that there is adequate seasoned cover ?

    • dre

      Exactly my thinking! though he isn’t a injury prone type of guy but what if he does get injured what if faf gets injured depth at key positions is a worrying factor

  • Herman Schroder?

    Spot on Jake although I’ll take it much further than that. No oversea player should be considered. I know that Rassie in his haste to appease his employers ( be they SARU or the ANC ) has handed out Springbok caps like Smarties at a birthday party but all we have now is four Franchises where it’s easier to name who is not a Springbok than who is, lol. All we have is a cross section of pretty average players with some notable exceptions who are now Springboks.

    We all know that Willie, Faf and Vermeulen probably saved Rassie’s bacon in the England series and therefore he feels overseas is best but is that the way to build a team culture based on a sound game plan and most importantly continuity ? No the AB’s don’t do it and that is what Jake is alluding to. Rassie has been given carte blanche to do anything he wishes with no fear of the outcome. Why then not build a homegrown team of suitably skilled players and throw them in at the deep end. Even the local lads must be demotivated by the fact that no matter how good their performances are the chance of them getting into the Bok team when half the team is based overseas is going to be pretty tough and is hardly going to build a team culture should they later be picked.

    In my opinion Rassie is trying to have the best of both worlds and he can afford to do as he pleases with his teflon coated SARU contract but in the end he is going to end up with a hybrid that falls somewhere in between and come WC time he will be none the wiser. I never liked poor old Toetie with his fuzzy old game plan but he must really be a bit cheesed off that Rassie has been given the key to the Kingdom with no strings attached and who can blame him. Cheers.

    • Greg Shark

      “…..We all know that Willie, Faf and Vermeulen …… saved Rassie’s bacon in the England series ….. Why then not build a homegrown team of suitably skilled players….”….. you’ve answered your own question….there are no suitably skilled players to fill the ‘vacuum’ and that is patently clear!

      Rassie must pick a team and support players that can win matches and win them now, he knows that, SARU knows that, smart Bok fans know that……but some don’t…..players with talent need to be blooded and brought into the team and that is precisely what is happening but the Boks still have to win important games to remain relevant to fans….

      • Herman Schroder?

        Greg, I assume you’re talking about the poor old Sharkettes. I would have said a team can be built up with the bulk of the players from the Lions but that’s too late now because they’re all leaving on a jet plain to where their talents can be appreciated and rewarded. I’ll say it again if Toetie had picked them in bulk in 2016 we would not be having this discussion now assuming Toetie gave them carte blanche to play their own game plan. But that’s water under the bridge and we seem to be left with the scraps most of them masquerading as Springboks.

        If you believe that the future is bringing overseas players in at short notice, who incidentaly only grace our shores at the whim of their billionaire employers, then you are sadly mistaken my friend. Nobody does that in world rugby. It’s not even contemplated by NZ and Auss and the Argentinians don’t do it anymore. The same goes for the rest of the world including the Six Nations.

        As I said in my post Rassie has been given free rein and even if he loses along the way so what ? Rassie could have picked 30 players as a core group of ‘stay at homers’ ( 15 Lions and the rest from the stragglers. lol ) from the current crop to bring on over the next 13 tests and if he can’t weld them into a decent enough team in that time he is no coach anyway.

        Planning ahead for the WC is a fool’s exercise anyway and a convenient excuse from a coach to buy himself time. I mean some are even talking about 2023 as his real target ? What a load of tripe. By and large World Cups historically do not produce the best teams in their era’s as champions anyway. So what does it really prove. For example the NZ Sevens just won the WC after 4 knockout games in San Francisco. In the Sevens Series they are poor cousins to Fiji and our super Blitzbokke. Get my drift. Like the English FA Cup the best team of that year rarely wins it. It’s a lottery in fact.

        Nee Meneer, A team culture is essential to building a winning culture and consistency, just ask the Lions, lol. As one poster said on this site what if the so called ‘indispensable’ Vermeulen gets injured before the WC are we then going to curl up and die ? I repeat build it ( a team ) and they will come ( to watch ).

        Always nice chatting to you old chap, Cheers.

  • John Comyn

    I have been asking myself this question. The only thing I can think is Duane gave Rassie no choice. We know Duane is coming to the end of his career and feels, rightly so, that he is entitled to earn as much as possible. It may also be possible that Rassie is happy to keep Duane’s work load down to a minimum in the hope of keeping him fresh and motivated for 2019. Like Jake says, if he loses, his job is safe till at least after the WC. One thing is for sure our current loosies are not world class. I wonder where Marcel Coetzee is at the moment?

    • Herman Schroder?

      John, Who’s next Victor Matfield ?. Duane is past it despite his England flurry and is rugby’s version of AB de Villers in terms of picking and choosing when he will grace the Bok jersey with his presence. If he is the only thing that stands between success or failure for the Boks at the WC then heaven help us.

      By the way if he wanted to keep Vermeulen’s work load down to a minimum why is he even playing in Japan ? Of course the money but can’t he also get injured there, what with his wonky knee and all. By all accounts he won’t even be playing in the EOYT. Shouldn’t he be resting now after all he’s played three tests this year already, lol. No Jake was right Rassie has got this deal wrong and has set a very poor precedent. Cheers.

      • Mike

        Herman…..you have a lot of opinions, some good some bad. Your view on Duane is so far off base. Duane is past it? You make me laugh! Have you seen him play for the past three years or are you a South African who worships the Lions and doesn’t watch anything but Super Rugby? Please answer that question…..
        I have lived in Europe for the last 7 years and have seen many players come and go, Duane was the captain of that all-star team at Toulon and was far and away their best player more times then not. You, and many others on this site, have commented over the last few years that he is past his prime, that WW is the number 8 going forward yet many of these same detractors have not watched one minute of Top 14 game time to even assess Duane’s skills. Everyone gets their panties twisted because he left SA to make some cash. Good for him, he made money for his family, tweaked his skillset, and returned from Europe a better player. Who benefits from this…..the Springboks. His “flurry” against England was something I saw on a weekly basis in France. He is not the “be all, end all” for the Boks but he is a very important part of the puzzle if the Boks are to have any chance of seeing the title next year. You want only players who ply their trade in SA to wear the jersey but that isn’t feasible.
        Their is a reason why so many players are leaving SA to greener pastures in Europe and beyond. The value of the South African currency, crime….plus throw in the terrible travel related to SR fixtures and you have players leaving in droves. You will not see a decline in the best players heading out of town anytime soon, you need to accept that. If you want to have a 2nd tier Boks squad because they are the only ones left playing Super Rugby then more power to you. You will see the same results that we all saw when AC was running the ship. The Boks will be playing competitive rugby against Georgia instead of NZ. The future is bleak if you and many others continue to feel this way. You just can’t compare other nations to SA when it comes to playing the trade at home instead of abroad.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Mike contrary to your assumption I do in fact watch NH rugby and all their competitions. I am retired and have the time to spend keeping myself in the loop and Superbru keeps me invested as well. I comment frequently on various forums as well so it would be a bit silly of me to do so if I didn’t watch the games.

          Firstly ‘old man river’ Duane. Reputations are sometimes built on very tenuous ground. Sure Toulon had their glory years with our steamroller buddy contributing significantly but French Franchise rugby suited him and his style of play. In recent years Toulon, with Duane at the helm, have slipped from their pedestal and they last won a meaningful trophy way back in 2015.

          Watching him this year for Toulon he looked ponderous and out on his feet. It is common knowledge that he would have been offered a pay cut if he wanted to continue with Toulon. Remember also that D was an integral part of a Springbok team that hardly set the world alight since 2014. His cameo in the fist test loss to a second string Ireland in 2016 soon had him rushing back to Toulon with a so called ‘injury’. I know one can’t blame one player for all the Bok woes but hey we did it to Jantjies so why not DV.

          Secondly, I still maintain you cannot build a team culture and consistency with overseas players as the backbone of the Bok team those players are ‘owned’ by their clubs. By Rassie relaxing the overseas restrictions he has in fact accelerated the ‘flight’ to Europe to the further detriment of SA rugby. He has been given carte blanche to do whatever he sees fit and like Coetzee before him he is going to pay the price

          The obvious solution as I pointed out is a move from SR to the NH with our Franchises being privatized and falling in line with the NH competitions including the Six Nations. Seasonal problems may still occur but hey the Cheetahs seemed to cope all right. Cheers.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Well said Minging. Cheers.

    • minging

      Continual problems and re-surgeries on his dodgy ACL. 4 games since he arrived in Ulster in 2017.

  • Spartan

    I thought Duane decided that he wants to chase the money. How could Rassie have prevented his departure?

  • Barry Smith

    The decision and reasoning for Duane’s Japan stint are moot because he would likely have played little role in the upcoming series anyway. Erasmus needs to build depth urgently and he does not have the luxury of four years to do it in!
    Jake is quick to criticise, but I recall him taking an inexperienced team to Australia and getting his ass kicked the year before RWC, all in the interests of growing depth! It worked for Jake, so why not for Rassie?
    I think we have to accept that we will again sit at 3rd or at very best 2nd in the upcoming RC, but we will come out the other end with 4 or 5 youngsters with six more tests to their credit!

    • Chris Mouton

      Exactly Barry! Jake once again sounds like sour grapes to me. What Mr. White doesn’t seem to understand is that we have no real replacement for Duane or Faf for that matter. And before certain people start wetting their panties about me not mentioning W Whiteley as a replacement, we all need to realise that WW needs more international experience. Rassie knows what he’s getting from Duane, Willie and Faf, but due to AC’s short-sightedness there are no experienced players that can take over. AC rarely used his bench to make an impact and only gave the majority of those players 5min playing time.

      Rassie should experiment now and discover some combinations, because we desperately need players with international experience. There’s not a single local scrumhalf I can think of to replace Faf. None of them has taken the game by the scruff of the neck. Compare our local scrummies to Smith and Perenara. We’re okay in the rest of the positions, but scumhalf and 8th-man are our biggest problems. Let Duane go make some money in a less-intensive league for now. He’ll be back. Rumour has it him and Britz might just join the Bulls next year. So, chill, Jake.

      P.S. Rassie’s official role is Director of Rugby, which he’ll most probably fulfill better after the World Cup. He’s not just a national coach whose job is on the line when they lose. His primary role is to develop SA rugby, which I suppose does give him job security. At least we’ll have some continuity for once.

  • Graham

    Jake I dout you read any of the comments on this site but if you do I would firstly like to say I am and have been a huge fan since your world cup win, the reason I started watching and supporting bok rugby and became a rugby fan in general. Secondly I love your articles, you do offer a unique perspective although I dont always agree with all your views. Lastly on your view in this article I do agree with you to a certain extent. I dont think Rassie is completely secure in his job, I think many people are out for him just for the fact that hes gotten such “freedom” in his selection. If he lost the series against England we would all be saying something different about the boks. I do agree that he is gambling a bit too much with his selections and too many changes are made at once. 2 or 3 changes should be max ATM and the core group needs as much game time together as possible.the changes and offering too many new caps, I feel, is too disruptive and no team can build momentum like that.that said some of the new guys really put their hands up, many failed. All in all its a balancing act and I hope in the championship we can start to settle on a starting team and give a couple of guys select chances to build depth in some key areas at strategic times. I believe rassie can do good things, still would have liked you to be involved in some way. Thanks for all the input

  • Christo

    Stop thinking like amateurs. This year has proven once and for all that our best players MUST play overseas. Look at Diane, FAF and Willie. They have improved dramatically since they left these pathetic coaches in RSA and played overseas where they are properly coached. Our problem has never been our players. OUR PROBLEM IS OUR COACHES. They are the worst in the world.

  • Dean

    Rassie planned for this before hand. Having Marx, Etzebeth and Whiteley back will offset some of the loss in leadership and grunt in the pack. However, the RC could make or break this team. Surely you want your best 23 to play against the likes of Australia and New Zealand. I’d be interested to see if Rassie will be able to acquire the services of Bismarck, Frans Steyn and Francois Louw. I think they could provide valuable input since they have traveled to Australasia before and won there.

    • Stanley

      Dean – not to take anything away from the players you mention below (btw – I am a BIG Willie fan), but the Cheetahs made the knockouts with the first attempt in a European competition. You don’t see that in SuperRugby not even from a NZ Team, just ask the Hurricanes. What does that tell you about European competition?

    • Herman Schroder?

      Dean. who’s next Victor ? Funnily enough all these ‘past their sell by date’ players come from an era where Bok rugby was highly unsuccessful. Did they win anything over the past 9 years ? Not to my recollection. But they are given almost mythical super star status yet actually achieved nothing. Quite a few of the overseas guys actually played in Meyer’s ‘pearl harbour’ moment at the WC in 2015, lol. They also played mostly in the dom krag era anyway and we all know how relevant that is today. No Sir build from within. Cheers.

      • Dean

        You would have said the same until Duane, Faf and Willie made the biggest difference to the team in our recent series win. You wrote Duane and Willie off before.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Dean, yes and they did surprise us in the first two tests but soon disappeared to a certain extent in the third test when Eddie worked old Rassie out. Note I did not include Faf for obvious reasons. He was shabbily treated by Alistair and picking him this year was where Rassie did get it right so kudos to him. Willie always had it but was turned into a dom krag version of himself by Heyneke Meyer.

          But I stick by me contention, no overseas players should be chosen. Local is best with the right game plan and skilled players to match and then mold them into a team worthy of the Bok jersey. We have nothing to lose because being currently ranked 7th there should only be one way for us to go than up, we hope. Cheers.

          • Dean

            How? Faf is unrivaled at scrumhalf. Duane would feature in any Springbok 23. Willie is our best fullback by some distance. Then you take into account how well our players have improved in Europe. Kolbe and Aplon are legends there. Goosen won player of the season in the Top14. Schalk Brits became a cult hero. Lambie played a massive part in Racing’s recent season. Bismarck, Frans Steyn and Jan Serfontein have been integral to Montpellier’s success. Montpellier averaged more tries per game than any of ours in Super Rugby this season. Don’t write off players overseas just because you don’t watch them play there. Let’s not forget the other 300 players who were first team choices before they jetted off to overseas clubs. Now, you have a bunch of your beloved Lions heading over. You saying we must now forget Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Ruan Dreyer, Ruan Janse and Elton because they are heading abroad? There will be nothing but amateurs and a handful of die-hards to pick from.

  • Nick

    Interesting to recall jakes’ results against the all blacks in nz. And being old enough to remember a particularly unpleasant result in pretoria. (Let’s also conviniently not mention a particularly embarrassing score in australia). Was it under his watch that we lost to Ireland in Dublin for the first time? (I stand to be corrected, had the boks ever lost to Ireland before this?)

    Jake was coach when we won a rather unsatisfying world cup due to an outrageously lucky draw in France, with his good mate Eddie Jones drafted in at the last moment to revive some kind of life from a morbid back line in a team driven by a golden generation of bok forwards and the boot of percy Montgomery. Sure, we’ll take that win, and jake should be commended for acknowledging his limitations.

    The point I’m making is that jake is hardly a specialist/authority on winning down in nz and Australia. Just don’t let facts get in the way of a good lecture!

    Rassie will do well to keep his own council.

  • Billy

    I agree with you Herman, but Graham I disagree with you. Jake White never won the World Cup, it was Eddie Jones and the excellent crop of players.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Thanks for that Billy. I said in another post on this site that the WC is an exciting contest but due to it’s format more often than not does not always produce the best team of that era. The AB’s who won the first one in 1987 had to wait 24 years to win their next one and even in 2011 if Craig Joubert had the guts to penalize the AB”S in front of their posts in the closing minutes it could have been even longer.

      Even Jake was helped by some very unexpected losses by Australia and NZ in the playoff stages but that is knockout rugby and only proves my point. IMO play every game with your best squad leading up to the WC and let the dice fall as it may come WC time. World No 1 ranking should be the aim. Cheers.

  • Herman Schroder?

    Dean, from your response to me above you appear to have indicated that the entire Bok team is overseas at the moment. How pray are you going to weld them into a consistent, skilled Bok team with continuity and a culture which you must have to perform on the world stage.? Not only that but Bok rugby will be at the mercy of Franchise owners overseas who are very reluctant to part with their ‘treasures’. ‘Guest’ appearances by these players is not the answer.

    By the way when the Lions were doing so well didn’t some say yeah but SR is not test rugby ? Well does the same not apply to their competitions ? As I mentioned most of those players come from very unsuccessful Bok teams over the years so what makes them so special ?

    The solid core of Lions rugby has now been lost not only due the effects of the pound but due to shabby treatment by both Alistair and Rassie as of mentioned on numerous occasions. Again a case of us shooting ourselves in the foot. Dean, NO other country uses overseas players to fill their ranks surely that should give you a hint ?

    On another site I have just responded to your well written article on NH rugby and agree that us playing over there would be preferable to the current status quo. It would make more sense in welding a new look Bok team but as usual to get that ship launched is probably way beyond the current clowns running the show in sunny SA. Cheers.

  • Just Saying

    Duane signed his contract to play in Japan in December 2017. At that stage he could not have known that he was going to play for the Springboks in June 2018 and be a star performer.

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