Rassie’s burden: can Boks beat NZ?

Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Few things spell the end of the so-called honeymoon period for a Springbok coach like a looming Rugby Championship.

Former Bok coach Allister Coetzee knows this too well, having gone through it twice in his two years in charge. Coetzee’s first dose of rugby reality came after that iffy but successful start against Ireland in 2016, the Boks losing four of their six Rugby Championship games that year.

We thought a “new” culture-fuelled series-win over a French team that was weaker than the stuff my laaitjie passes into his nappies meant the Boks had turned the corner last June, but then, like clockwork, the Rugby Championship put the bash on that idea and left Coetzee’s men with a symmetrical record of: won two, drawn two and lost two.

Long story short: as a new Bok coach you’re not out of the woods until you’ve negotiated a Rugby Championship. This includes emerging with more wins than losses from the tournament, and without having your pants pulled down in public by the All Blacks putting 50-pointers on your team.

Rassie Erasmus is next on a conveyor belt that specialises in spitting coaches out. How he and the Boks go in the tournament makes this Rugby Championship the most important in years for South Africans as it will be the acid test of whether the Boks really are on the comeback trail we’ve all been holding out for.

Despite the fact that his current record (won two, lost two) is fair to middling at best, few Bok coaches have enjoyed a better honeymoon period than Erasmus, both at SA Rugby and in the minds of the rugby public.

We media types have bored you to tears about the former Springbok flanker’s unprecedented contract and sphere of influence, but to date he has used that preferential treatment – for want of a better phrase – to telling effect in his first few months in charge.

Erasmus’ tenure has been characterised by having a little in it for everyone.

If you like your captaincy appointment significant, Erasmus has obliged. If you like your Bok teams transformed, Erasmus has been your man. If you like your rugby unambiguous and vibrant, Erasmus has been on it. If you like your Bok coach’s answers frank and engaging, Erasmus has done his bit.

Simply put, Erasmus has been way ahead of all of us and the result is the kind of honeymoon period that has seen the same people who derided the idea of Mzwandile Stick as a Bok assistant coach just two years ago prepared to give him a chance in the same set up.

But going into the Rugby Championship Erasmus has a few problems no amount of goodwill can paper over. The first is the composition of the squad he was set to name on Monday.

Said squad was expected to be missing first XV players Duane Vermeulen (club commitments) and Sbu Nkosi (injury), with matchday squad player Warrick Gelant also ruled out with injury and Aphiwe Dyantyi possibly another sickbay doubt if his sparing use in the Super Rugby final is anything to go by.

The first issue is obviously what those players – led by Vermeulen’s ballast and the fearlessness of youth of the other three – bring to Erasmus’ brave new Boks. The second being what the next wave of talent has not been able to do.

Erasmus’ two defeats in charge – losses which had shades of the 2016 Boks about them in their cluelessness – were courtesy of his second stringers, which means he is still at a stage where he can’t trust them to step into the team and step up.

Erasmus’ unspoken, and biggest, problem is the burden of having to beat the All Blacks at least once – which would be the first time in four years – as proof positive that the Boks have what it takes to be competitive against what used to be the old enemy.

To bastardise the EFF’s Julius Malema, it would give us a signal and infuse South African rugby with the requisite confidence on its umpteenth new dawn since 2007.

- Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    I think we under value the progress that Erasmus was able to make in a few short months! Pulling off an England series win eight month ago was seen as highly unlikely, if not damn impossible, such were the depths of deterioration in our Senior rugby!
    The Four Nations will present a far stiffer test this year than in past seasons, because the Jaguars are no longer a dead cert win and the Australians are much improved.
    I would be happy at this stage with 2nd spot and I suspect we will beat the AB’S at home but not away!

    • Chris van Wyk

      If Rassie can’t do it no other coach will be able. We do not have a more competent coach. As long as he choose the best players. It is a worry that our best wing Ruan Combrinck is not there.

  • John Comyn

    I prefer not to take into account the game against Wales in the US when assessing Rassie’s performance. England came here with their backs against the wall and determined to get back on track. We did very well to beat them. The Lions showed on Saturday that NZ sides can be put on the back foot. I think Rassie has the tactical nous and he will put out a well prepared side who can compete with the best. I’m more positive than I have been for a long time.

  • SweetAz

    The Boks will come 3rd or maybe even 4th in the Rugby Championship. The only game they might win will be Argentina at home. I really didn’t see that much progress against England and transformation targets will still handicap them. If Rassie was a brain surgeon that could transplant the brains in our “top” rugby players I would have had hope, but for the most part, they still play stupid rugby. It’s not about style, domkrag or expansive or whatever the flavour of the month is.
    At the end of the day it’s about making the right decisions consistently, Australia and NZ are way ahead and Argentina has shown signs of passing us there as well. At the end of the day a clever team will always beat a dumb team and we certainly don’t have too many brain donor type intellects in the Bok setup.

    • Mike Stoop

      Agree fully. The best coach in the world will battle to make headway with these chumps.

  • Mike Stoop

    If you want to win you have to play your best tight five, in fact your best tight nine all the time. (That will exclude converted looseheads). Add a fetcher and a big ball carrier (like Kyle Brink or Cobus Wiese) who runs straight and fast and with brutal force and doesn’t wrestle around rucks or give chicken wing passes. That just holds up play and breaks the rhythm. Then find yourself another Vermeulen at eighth man. Combine this pack with the big Australian backline and you have a team that can bludgeon any side into submission. I don’t have any confidence in our backs. All of them are close to seriously useless, except Faf at his best. We don’t have a flyhalf that will make any of the other championship sides. Same for the centres and wings. Even Willie le Roux won’t supplant the No. 4 All Black fullback. We just consider him to be brilliant because he is the only South African back with some vision.

    However, we can’t have everything we wish for, can we. So, we will have to make do with probably Thomas du Toit as a tighthead, or should they regain fitness, Coenie Oosthuizen anf Trevor Nyakane. Because even though they aren’t that hot in the scrum, they are so woelig in the loose. So domination up front is not a given. On top of that we have a philosophy that runs like a golden thread through our current crop of coaches: “The team that kicks the most, wins more often than not”. It may even be true. However, we had one scrumhalf who could kick and Fourie du Preez is unlikely to make a comeback anytime soon. Lambie is broken, so we don’t have a clever flyhalf who can kick well tactically either. With our centres it is probably true that kicking is a better option than passing. It won’t work though, our players kick very badly. Kicks up-field often lead to tries for the opposition.

    I fervently hope to be proved wrong, but I really am not the religious type, so faith eludes me.

    • John Comyn

      Why don’t we slit our wrists! First off we have an abundance of choices in the T5 without having to rely on Coenie and Trevor to win games. Our T5 is probably the best in the competition and I include the AB’s. The Crusaders, who’s T5, in no way dominated the Lions pack, are supposed to be the AB pack. Our scrum will decimate the Wallabies & the Pumas and at worst be on a par with the AB’s. I’m also not sure if the Argies or OZ have better halfbacks. For example I have never rated Foley and would far rather have Pollard in my side. We also have a few x factor players in the backs eg Willie, Aphiwe and Faf. If there is a real weakness it is our defense out wide and hopefully Nienaber has had enough time to sort it out. End of the day all 4 sides have strengths and weaknesses. This championship is not a foregone conclusion by any means. There ain’t no fat lady singing right now!

      • Mike Stoop

        Don’t understand sarcasm do you? I definitely don’t want woelige retreaded looseheads at tighthead in my scrum (If you don’t know that Coenie, Trevor and Thomas are exactly that, you don’t really follow rugby). They will be there, or at least one of them, mark my words. No coach in this country can resist picking a mobile prop, even if he gets mauled in the scrum. And in a country where a scrum is considered to successfull as long as you don’t concede a tighthead it will not surprise me. A dominant scrum gives you penalties, which in turn gives you possession and field position, from where you can either kick for posts or maul over in the corner. If you have mediocre centres and your “X-factor” players are very far from the ball and you have a dominant tight five, that is how you should play. But Thomas and Beast will be there. Beast will hold his own, but won’t dominate. So you will only expect scrum penalties in the last 30 minutes, but by then Thomas will be there and the penalties can go either way.

        Foley is a competent, well rounded player. Rather small and not so flashy, but makes good decisions and kicks intelligently and competently. Pollard kicks the ball a long way, but kicks very poorly when not going for touch. Yes, he is our best and on a few good days a couple of years ago, I thought we had a good one. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since those few good days.

        Yes, Faf is good at clearing amazingly quickly. He has the ability to lift the tempo of the game singlehandedly. However, even though his kicking has improved, it still isn’t what one would call good. Dyanti certainly impressed me. I was just a little disappointed at the ease with which May outstripped him in the third test though. That was an out and out footrace and he lost. Badly. I really believe that a wing should be, above all else, fast. I love Willie, but would I pick him over Folau, Ben Smith, Dagg or MacKenzie or even Bofelli? I don’t really know. He certainly is our only outside back who has vision and he is a better player for having played in England.

        I try to take emotion out of player evaluations and I do want the Boks to succeed. I am just not the hopeful type. And I think NONE of our coaches understand the value of a good scrum.

        • John Comyn

          I don’t know much about front rows but I do know we have plenty of talent in these positions. I even back Bongi as a more than adequate replacement for Marx in the last 10/15 minutes. I thought Pollard was outstanding in the 1st two tests against England as was Faf. Lest you forget Elton played in the 3rd test. There seems to be a perception going around that Eddie Jones arrived here with a broken England side. I’m not convinced we can win a game against the AB’s just yet either but I think we will put OZ and Argentina away comfortably

          • Mike Stoop

            Bongi is part of my tight nine, i.e. tight five plus replacements. I agree that England was’t broken. During 2018, their opponents just fronted up and exposed them. I do not think they are an exceptional side. I do not think that the Irish are exceptional either, but my, are they well coached and don’t they know exactly what their strengths are. Unlike SA.

            Yes, we will probably put Argentina away, because they have a very weak front row (contrary to what commentators who grew up in the seventies believe). They do have very good loose forwards though. Marx (our only fetcher) will be up against his direct opponent and at least two flankers. If he can beat them, it will be comfortable. If not, we may have a fight on our hands. With Aus I am not too sure. We play them first on our way east, so jet lag will be a factor. If we pick our absolutely strongest scrum and take them on in the tight five, we may beat them away. I don’t think it we will pick our strongest scrum, though, which means we wont quite starve Beale, Folau and those other monsters at the back of ball, because if they can hold us in the scrum, Hooper and Pocock will be freed up. Good as Marx is, he can’t counter both, especially if he has to use more energy in the scrum.

      • Jon Byrne Jon Byrne

        Absolutely right John Comyn!

  • Dean

    We should first focus on beating Australia and Argentina, home and away, before we can consider ourselves good enough to beat the All Blacks. We haven’t done that for a long time.

  • Mike

    Hey Simnikiwe, just wanted to tell you I really enjoy your writing. Whenever I see an article you wrote I make a point to read it. Makes a hell of lot more sense than most pundits.

    On that point I am a believer thus far in the Rassie Revolution, I suspect that beating the All Blacks in his first season might be a bridge too far(it took Heyneke three if I recall correctly). However rugby can be unpredictable and I would love nothing more than to see Hansen’s pants pulled down (as you so eloquently put it)

  • Fanie

    Has the AB got a weakness and what might that be. I did not see any weakness from the Crusaders can the Boks beat the Crusaders.

  • Vossie

    One has to ask where is Combrink and Kwagga in the squad announced yesterday, 4 Scrumhalves? Willemse to cover fullback looks interesting! Our T5 will be strongest in the Championship in my opinion! Midfield with Esterhuysen can be promising! We will need to play exceptionally well to beat Aus in Aus, if they have a good Bledisloe cup then it will be difficult! will give NZ a run for their money at home. Predicting 2nd place in the Championship!

    • SweetAz

      Combrink and Kwagga are not in the squad simply because of that unspoken issue nobody is allowed to mention at the risk of being labelled.

      • Redge

        Kwagga disappeared in the final simply because he is not strong enough. I’m a Combrinck fan but to be honest his defence in 2018 so far was shocking

  • Mike Stoop

    A question: Why do South African coaches consider flyhalves and fullbacks to be interchangeable, where the rest of the world thinks that a good wing makes a good fullback and vice versa. A good flyhalf seems to be considered to make a good inside centre and vice versa. Is it because we are so obsessed with kicking, especially goal kicking.

    • Dean

      Damian McKenzie started at fullback. So did Beauden Barrett at test level. It’s not a bad move by Rassie by any means.

      • Mike Stoop

        McKenzie is the exception in world rugby. It does not prove that always works. Beauden Barret also played a lot on the wing as a replacement. He was not a fullback who was turned into a fly half, he played off the bench as a utility back for a couple of years (why would you take Dan Carter off the field). He was also an exception because of his pace. England picked Farrel at inside centre, Mike Brown on the wing and Daly at fullback. Wales did the same with Halfpenny. New Zeeland uses Dagg and Ben Smith on the wing, as they did with Corey Jane. They were all fullbacks. Most of them are still first choice fullbacks for their franchises.

        In South Africa, we tend to move these wild, unruly and uncontrollable fly halves who play the game that is in front of them (and not to the specific instruction of the coach) to fullback. Take Brent Russel, Phillip Burger and Willie le Roux. They all ended up in the wing/fullback position. All immensely talented, but uncontrollable to our fixed pattern coaches. In all three these instances it worked, but that was all the more the pity. They could all have changed South African back play forever as fly halves.

    • SweetAz

      Willie Le Roux started off as a fly-half and I’ve always rated him as above average in that position, so Willie at Fullback covers the Fly-half position. Our problem is we have dumb centres, so pretty much everything comes to a grinding halt at the flyhalf. I can’t honestly say I have seen a single South African centre who is genuine world class in a long time. Jacques Fourie was probably the last one. Frans Steyn for me is a better fullback than centre. All the one’s the last few years have been lacking some essential skill,—for crying out loud Jesse couldn’t BUY a try with a huge overlap in that one test against the English. Therein lies a big part of the problem, OZZ and NZ manipulate defenses in the midfield to generate breaks and overlaps,-our guys are simply too dumb.

      • Vossie

        lol, valid points there! not a lot of midfield quality then. The point is Esterhuizen weighs nearly a 110kg, obvious to see that his role would be take take the ball up and run over Crotty/Goodhue and pull in defenders, will it work? Not against the All Blacks or the Aussies with the likes of Hooper and Pocock ready to pounce, but maybe against the Pumas! If there’s any decent midfield combo in S.A? can’t think of any that’s currently equipped with offload and distribution skills set!

        • Redge

          No one will run over Crotty or Goodhue especially not Esterhuizen

  • Herman Schroder?

    Everything will depend on Rassie’s run on XV and the game plan. Thinking you can dominate up front and beat these teams is a fallacy. Look at Saturdays final. The Lions dominated or at least held their own in the tight phases ( except for the rolling maul ), dominated both possession and territory but were outscored 4 tries to 2 which was the difference between winning and losing. The Lions, for some unknown reason, reverted to ‘dom krag’ and paid the price.

    You must put out a team that is capable of scoring tries and a game plan to match. When last has a test match been won by a team scoring less tries than the opposition anyway. Pollard does not have those skills and the first two England tests were not his doing but it was the vision and class of Willie and Faf that turned the two games around. When they were neutralized in the the third test ( along with the rest of the team ), Jantjies was blamed for the defeat, go figure.

    So let’s see how Rassie manages this challenge. Cheers.

    • SweetAz

      The Lions did not lose because of “dom krag”,—they lost because they were “dom”. The Crusaders are one of the most penalized teams in Super Rugby. Joint first with 10 yellow cards,-the penalty ratio in the final was 16 to 5. Which is not even reflective of possession and territory.
      The Crusader’s gameplan is built around denying opponents tries, BY HOOK OR BY CROOK. They are not particularly good or spectacular at anything,-it’s why the Waratahs almost beat them until they got their cheat going again.
      A few years ago in a RWC (1999) South Africa DESTROYED England with drop-goals in the pool stages,—–the name Jannie De Beer ring any bells? So please drop this crap about dom krag and scoring many tries and the Lions this and the Lions that. It’s a logical fallacy, the NZ teams ALL have their own distinctive style and they are successful BECAUSE THEY PLAY INTELLIGENT RUGBY..
      Something your beloved Lions failed spectacularly to do in 3 FINALS SO FAR,—each time they were outthought by the opposition. This last final again,-every thinking rugby person watching Super Rugby and knowing the way the Crusaders play KNEW how they were going to play AND THE LIONS LET THEM PLAY THAT WAY. Out of 15 penalties if they had kicked just 10 added to their 2 tries they would have won the game, by PUNISHING the Crusaders for their crookedness they will have forced them to change their gameplan and may even have beaten them by far more.
      South African rugby has been playing STUPID rugby for most of the time since isolation ended with only a few desperation wins here and there and nothing has changed so any thinking person will continue to expect the exact same results to continue.

      • Herman Schroder?

        SweetAz, I can’t agree ( what’s new ) The SA teams that took all their kicks this year never made it. Why ? Strangely enough the 6 ‘try’ bonus points the Lions received actually got them into the Finals. The other three limp biscuit Franchises managed only 4 between them in 48 matches, go figure. The difference of course proves my point.

        I’m not sure who you support but It’s amazing how getting to three finals in a row is denigrated by someone who’s team either withered away mid way through the season or sneaked a playoff spot after finishing eighth in a 15 team log. Laughable but sad.

        AS for dom krag well you defeated your own argument by referring to rugby played when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Since 2009 SA rugby has gone from bad to worse to pathetic and all because we never adapted. The Lions started adapting in 2014 and became unstoppable in SA in two short years. The rest remained entrenched in dom krag mode and like the dodo have become virtually extinct. So if the jersey fits wear it.

        You mention the Lions lack intelligence but pray what does it say for the other three ?? Oh that’s right dom krag rugby means having plenty muscle no brains which fits the other three down to the ground. Of course in your argument you fail to mention all the mitigating reasons for the three losses, ie red cards, hurricane weather, poor refereeing, one eyed TMO’s, travel etc etc but hey how can one expect objectivity from someone who has obviously not enjoyed his rugby these past eight years.

        If you read my articles you will see that I did criticize the Lions for playing more conservatively and dumping their off load, switch attack game of the previous two years, so in a way I do see your point. But you cannot simply say they lack intelligence because they did not win.

        In finals rugby it’s small moments and Jantjies ‘non try’ was one of those. With 18 minutes to go the Lions were still only 10 points shy and Combrink missed a penalty. Funnily enough that is one time I would have gone for the corner. 7 points behind and had Jantjies touched down it could well have been another story.. Of course the officials still ignored Swys’ call for tougher policing of the Crusaders which was predictably ignored but your contention is the Lions were just plain ‘dom’ on the day. Sorry chap I simply do not agree. Despite the setback the Lions remain – Simply the Best and worthy ”runners up” three years in a row in the toughest Franchise comp in the world. Others can only dream of reaching the playoofs. Cheers.

        • SweetAz

          You still spectacularly miss the point and then go running around like a headless chicken throwing out strawman arguments. I’ll keep it simple, South Africa in general (including the Lions) plays STUPID RUGBY. The Jannie De Beer incident I brought up as an example of one of the FEW times they actually played an intelligent game utilizing their strengths after analysing the opponent’s weakness.

          The main reason for this comes down to ONE simple factor, PROFESSIONALISM. The rest of the world has embraced it, our teams have come to the party late and never caught up. Until we become professional and innovators instead of followers we will always be “runners-up”,—but then I guess when you embrace mediocrity second best seems like the jackpot?

          In NZ the AB’s have just played a game of “3-halves”,-in Australia the Arsetralians have been honing their skills as a team playing games against themselves specifically getting their opponents to duplicate AB moves and game plans,—all to prepare for the Rugby Championship. In other words PROFESSIONAL PREPARATION,—–maybe you could tell us what the Boks have been doing? Or should I tell you,-fokkol new.

      • Mike Stoop

        Touche. Perfect summary.

  • Barend

    Our tight 5 -T5 WILL NOT be the best in the competition and we will win only 2, maybe 3 games this year in The Championship. We will not win the All Blacks. If we do, I will gladly print and eat these pages for lunch.
    We can win Australia and Argentine here and maybe Argentine there and that is that.
    Put your predictions in writing and lets see who is nearest to the truth at the end.
    SweetAz, we have won two-2- World Cups since end of isolation. That means 6 wins in a row each time, hardly a desperation win here and there I would say. Maybe you were to young to notice. We forgive you.

    • SweetAz

      95 we shouldn’t even have been in the final,—we actually lost that game in the rain against the French and then we all know about Suzy,—real or not. 2007 we had a very lucky draw. Since then it’s been hit and or miss,—mostly miss. I’ve been watching rugby for almost 50 years mate, I’ve actually played with one or two guys that became Springboks so maybe old age is affecting my memory but I still know stupid when I see it.

      • Herman Schroder?

        And the French would have beaten the AB’s in the 2011 final if Craig Joubert had the guts to penalize the AB’s in front of their posts in the dying minutes of that game. So each WC has it’s story and diminishing what has been achieved by the winning team to make a point shows a decided lack of objectivity on your part.

        Oh and more recently, imo Jantjies touched the tryline with the ball in this years SR final but it was not scrutinized properly by the TMO etc. But hey let’s just put it down to the rub of the green like the French did in 1995. Cheers.

Comments are closed.