Rassie primes SA for moment of truth

Brenden Nel

Often when we listen to a coach talking, we’re so obsessed with the here and now, the current story or latest trend, that we miss the subtle nuances that are thrown our way in laying the foundation for a later, bigger and much more significant story.

So it is with a smirk that I wonder, after listening to Rassie Erasmus for the past three weeks, if he is readying Bok fans for a mighty fall.

Okay, that may be a tad dramatic. But anyone who has been listening to Erasmus will have noticed him peppering his prose with phrases such as “we must be brave” and “we will lose games along the way, but as long as we are growing.”

It’s understandable, in a high-pressure job like coaching the Springboks, that Erasmus will provide caveats to stop the euphoria from getting out of hand. But this week he took it a step further, reminding those in Cape Town that the Boks are “miles behind” the All Blacks at the moment.

That’s hardly the type of comment the average Springbok fan, fresh from a 2-0 drubbing of Eddie Jones’ England, expects to hear. It’s clear that Erasmus is slowly laying the groundwork for the possibility that things will go horribly wrong in the Rugby Championship.

In his defence, the euphoria is sometimes a bit over the top and there is so much positive sentiment in Bok rugby at the moment after the appointment of Siya Kolisi as captain, the removal of the transformation headache that has bogged down so many of his predecessors and, importantly, some great rugby being played on the field.

But there is also a fine line between enthusiasm and support, and blind loyalty. The current crop of Springboks have a lot to work on still, even though they have hauled themselves out of the ditch twice to roar back and score impressive victories.

The England series is won, and now the challenges take a step up. A massive step up.

While we can scoff about Wales’ 2-0 series-win in Argentina, Bok teams have struggled against the Pumas in recent times. Touring Australia has always been our Achilles heel, losing or drawing games that the Boks clearly should have won. And, on September 17, the Boks’ face their moment of truth.

All the sentiment and all the results will, in the eyes of Springbok supporters, be put into context by what happens during 80 minutes of rugby at the Cake Tin in Wellington, New Zealand.

Remember the similar desperation for good news in 2017 after Allister Coetzee’s side had put 35 on France in each of three consecutive wins? There was talk of a “new team culture”, a great, positive outlook, and everything looked dandy.

The team was unbeaten until they stepped onto the pitch in Christchurch on September 16 last year, and then the wheels came off spectacularly as the Boks suffered a record 57-0 loss.

As Mike Tyson famously said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Allister Coetzee’s tenure fell apart there and he will forever be remembered for the Boks’ biggest loss, just as Heyneke Meyer will always be remembered for the World Cup defeat against Japan. It is harsh, but that is sport.

There is every reason to celebrate the Boks’ success against England, a side that boasted they were coming to South Africa to win 3-0. But it must be seen for what it is – a step in the right direction, but not conclusive evidence of a Bok resurrection.

The main difference with the class of 2018 is that they have a fighting spirit we haven’t seen in a long time. Like a boxer, they’ve stumbled backwards after being hit with a flurry of combinations, but they’ve come back to record two big knockout wins.

Rassie will continue to temper the expectations, knowing that it can all come apart during one week in New Zealand. He will be optimistic about the return of experienced players such as Warren Whiteley, Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx and Coenie Oosthuizen lifting the Boks in September.

And he will be hoping the fighting spirit and belief grows into something that translates into a sustainable upward curve that takes the Boks through to the World Cup.

The Boks are making all the right moves at the moment, but Erasmus is issuing subtle warnings because he knows that a perfect start, and a nation’s belief, can be knocked out by one big punch to the face.

- Brenden Nel

Let's chat

  • William Botha

    Come on, Brenden, we know you can do better! ‘smirk?’ Really?

    Rassie’s strength is his authenticity. The player’s trust him, he is internationally rated and now we are starting to trust him. Authenticity means he does not do or say stuff out of character … and he is being honest about the amount of work still ahead of the Bok team… the entire team and not just the players… unlike his predecessor.

    • minging

      Which is exactly what Brenden is saying whilst taking a slight digs at fans and scribes that tend to over-wax-lyrical.

  • Barry Smith

    I think that Erasmus is just a realist. Such was the depths of despair at the end of last year after two years of Coetzee, that frankly I would have seen one from three against England as a huge improvement from 2017. The fact that we manage to clinch the series is fantastic! Erasmus no doubt fully appreciates that England have not been at their best for some time now and has rightly tempered the euphoria. It is probably unrealistic to think that we will beat NZ this coming September, but if we are able to continue our growth and come close, we will be in with a shot come World Cup.

  • John Comyn

    There is no reason why they can’t beat the AB’s. The AB’s have not been exactly flash against the French with 14 men and I have absolutely no doubt they will hammer the Pumas. I believe we are underestimating the Boks. Our pack at the moment are brutal. Anyone who thinks this England pack are a bunch of girls needs to think again. We have literally broken them.

    • Jay

      I completely agree with you regarding the pack but only in the loose. I feel our set piece still requires A LOT of work. The lineout seems a bit better with PSdT there and am sure it will improve even more when we get the regular guys back but what worries me is our scrum.

      The guys really seem to struggle to gain any real ascendency considering the talent within (not forgetting how they are individually breaking the English) but as a pack they have not seemed to gel as yet. We have had a few great scrums with Kitshoff but surely we should have many more. If I recall the final scrum against 7 Englishman, we almost lost the ball.

      This sadly will not work against the AB’s or even the rejuvinated Wallaby scrum come RC. Hopefully this can be sorted out soon.

    • Dean

      Agreed, this is basically England’s best pack. Jamie George is a better hooker than Hartley. They are only missing Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole as starters. Then again we have injuries to players in those exact same positions.

      • John Comyn

        Yes the Vunipola bros who, ostensibly, were going to bliksem us have headed off into the sunset. What a beautiful game!

      • Herman Schroder?

        Dean, you may be right but two factors doomed them. Firstly, Durban as a home base for two high veld internationals was plain suicide and secondly the England players arrived here practically out on their feet after eleven months of non stop rugby up North. Rassie is hedging his bets with most of his comments and he has no option but to do so but as the saying goes ‘you can’t fool all the people all the time’. Remember even poor old Alistair Coetzee won his first test series against ‘Ireland’ 2-1, lol. Cheers.

        • John Comyn

          Baggins – 11 months is stretching it a bit but if you say so! I live in CT and travel to Johannesburg a fair bit and I find it the breathing gets heavy almost immediately so I will concede to your 2nd argument.

          Here’s what the expert says: “Curiously, many teams persist with the strategy of travelling to altitude on the day of their match, even though the scientific evidence suggests that this is the worst possible approach! The theory behind this approach is that players must minimise their time at altitude, as though altitude creeps up on a player over the course of many hours. Logic would suggest that you either spend a lot of time at altitude in order to adapt, or you go up immediately before, which is what most coastal teams seem to do.

          Scientifically, playing as soon as possible seems to be the worst possible strategy. Studies have found that the worst physical performances are measured about six hours after arriving at altitude, and only improve from that point on. There is no ‘window of opportunity’ where players are good before they get worse – they only get better. This means that the earlier you can arrive at altitude, the better. This is a typical example of ‘conventional wisdom’, perhaps begun many years ago, which persists in the face of evidence to the contrary.

          It is an admittedly under-researched area, one that GPS technology, which we discussed earlier this season, may help to explain in the future. But for now, all the evidence says that the best approach is to maximise time spent at altitude. Arrive early, adapt, and then perform as well as possible.”

          Ross Tucker has PhD in Exercise Physiology from the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences and is currently a member of Paul Treu’s SA Sevens management team.

          • Herman Schroder?

            John, thanks for that, it is very informative and I agree Eddie got it totally wrong. As for the 11 months comment please refer to my response to Andre just below on this thread. Cheers.

          • Dean

            A new coach, a new captain, 16 new caps vs a settled England who have had the same coaching team and players for 3 years. You have to give Rassie and his team credit. This England team beat everybody in front of them bar NZ for 2 years and equalling the record winning streak. They shouldn’t be written off so easily.

        • Andre

          Ummmm sorry Herman………have our players not just been involved in a brutal Super Rugby campaign??? and Eddie Jones the ultimate ‘Professional’ should have known better!!

          • Herman Schroder?

            Andre, then why do we complain when we play in the UK in November ? The same applies to them and they play in the Aviva Premiership where they play up to 25 games if they get through to the final as well as the Championship Cup with another 9 games if they get to the final. Remember also some of these players also were in the Lions team in NZ twelve months ago. Not to mention the Six Nations with another 10 games and the November tours where they play another 4 games. That’s all in the last twelve months. Obviously an individual hardly plays in all the matches but still has to stay ‘battle’ ready. Energy sapping stuff.

            Our players by contrast play 6 games in the RC, most only play 16 matches in SR ( they hardly get to the playoffs, lol ) and 4 matches in the UK plus the June 3 match series at home. No comparison my friend. We played a jaded England team at home after their 12 months campaigns without a break. We in turn started mid Feb that is 4 months after a two month break. Even then, but for the rub of the green, the Boks could easily have lost this series. Rassie still has a long way to go to convince me he has what it takes. I trust this answers your question, Cheers.

          • Dean

            Spot on Andre. Herman picks and chooses which facts he wants to use to back up his opinion.

          • John Comyn

            Our players also have to cross time zones to play away games.

  • SweetAz

    The one factor everybody forgets is the ref,–GLEN JACKSON will ensure the Boks lose. Its just how he rolls.

  • Mike

    The Boks squad under AC were terrible, plain and simple, any fan should have seen that from the beginning. The players he chose at certain positions were terrible and had no business putting of the Boks jersey. No one should have been surprised at the drubbing we took in NZ. I expect us the take a beating in NZ again this year, the ABs are just too good and will exploit our inexperience on the outside. Everyone should brace themselves for a thrashing but should be willing to except it and not call for heads to roll. You can’t start at the top, give Rassie the time he needs to develop the Boks without the “all or nothing” mentality. He has chosen quality players, again, something AC did not do, they need to feel the loses in order to appreciate the wins.

  • Sharky

    “… the removal of the transformation headache”?!

    Have the powers-that-be removed those stupid transformation targets? Please say yes!

    • Herman Schroder?

      Sharky. They can now. Rassie is sticking to the letter of the law by handing out new caps like Smarties to get his ‘quota’ requirements up as soon as possible to placate his employers. I regret to say it will come back to bite him. Quotas are unnatural in my book and are a blight on our so called hard won democracy. It does no one any favours least of all for those ‘black’ players who really deserve to be Springboks. Cheers.

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