Ever since he was announced as the Springbok coach, the one thing Rassie Erasmus has done particularly well is to get people to see things his way.
From the unprecedented six-year contract, getting buy-in from the franchises to being given carte blanche on selecting overseas-based players, Erasmus has come across as a man able to come to a negotiated settlement, a regular deal-maker, if you will.
But 11 Test matches into his tenure as Bok head coach, you have to ask at what cost those deals are coming. One of the regular occurrences over the international season has been that we haven’t always had a clue when the England-based players were available to play for the Boks.
There have only been two Tests – against Wales in June and England last weekend – outside the international window, yet there has been endless conjecture about whether England-based players Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux and Francois Louw were available.
Watching De Klerk in his civvies at Twickenham last Saturday brought up the question of what good all of Erasmus’ wheeling and dealing was if he still couldn’t get the scrumhalf and Le Roux, two of his most important players this season, to play in a game as critical as the England Test.
And not to suggest it’s what they did, but what was to stop the English clubs from doing their bit for England by not releasing two players who would have made a difference at Twickenham?
The elephant roaming the negotiations room is the constant squad presence of 37-year-old hooker Schalk Brits, who was convinced out of retirement by Erasmus and has only one appearance from the bench.
We keep hearing that Brits is there to impart experience on the young props in the Bok team, but how well can he do that without actually playing? And if it can be done without actually getting on the field, should he not be consulting rather?
If ever there was a game in which Brits should have been involved, surely it would have been against England, where two of the lineout forwards – Maro Itoje and George Kruis – were his teammates at Saracens.
Another decision that has a ‘payback-time’ feel to it is Thomas du Toit’s sudden emergence as a loosehead prop again. Having been convinced that the fastest way into the Bok team was via his schoolboy position of tighthead, Du Toit found himself going to the back of a lengthening queue, owing to his inexperience.
Judging by some of his comments, he’d resigned himself to another two years of learning his craft before fighting for a starting role. But the moment Beast Mtawarira was injured, Du Toit was suddenly the reserve loosehead prop behind Steven Kitshoff.
One doesn’t know if the bulge currently has the upper hand in its battle with Trevor Nyakane, but one would have imagined the Bulls prop – a more natural loosehead who has handled both Kitshoff and the destructive Wilco Louw on both sides of the scrum this year – was the first cab off the rank.
The old SA rugby bugbear of transformation is another area where Erasmus may have signed cheques he can’t cash. When his tenure began he said the black talent was there, it just needed game time in pressure situations.
Yet the more must-win the games have become, Erasmus has copied his Super Rugby counterparts by seeking to have seven black players in his playing 23, where he started with about 10 or 11. The best example that he’s a little gun-shy of giving game time in pressure situations is the use of halfback Embrose Papier.
Papier, who has played as many games at scrumhalf as he has at wing, has mostly been introduced after the 70th minute or not been introduced at all, which screams a lack of trust in his ability.
To be fair to Erasmus, coaching the Springboks is a negotiated settlement at the best of times. The question is whether he’s making a rod for his back with some of the deals, and some may say compromises, he keeps striking.