What’s keeping Rassie up at night?

After the messy defeat in a sideshow Test against Wales last week, Rassie Erasmus’ term begins in earnest when South Africa face England at Ellis Park on Saturday. The AOR team debates what is at the top of the Bok coach’s worry-list.

Zelím Nel
Erasmus will easily have streaked into the thousands if he’s tried counting sheep this week.

Despite attempting to tickle the ears of rugby scribes frustrated by the Boks’ repetitive kicking against Wales, he is utterly convinced by – and invested in – the proven formula that more kicks equals more wins.

The Stormers were booed at Newlands in 2009 when Ricky Januarie doggedly followed Erasmus’ instruction to launch countless box-kicks in a low-scoring loss against the Blues.

That season was the dawn of the Stormers’ greatest period of success to date as they smashed the Crusaders before contesting the 2010 Super Rugby final and lost to that team in the semis the following season. And the residue of that plan underpinned the Cape side’s table-topping, 14-2 record in 2012.

Ricky Januarie is arguably the most underappreciated scrumhalf in Bok history and, in his prime, streets ahead of the current crop who have grown up in a rugby generation that is ranked on individual battlefield heroics rather than their contribution to winning the war.

Eddie Jones is unpopular at Twickenham because he doesn’t subscribe to those measuring standards. Ben Youngs is the best Test scrumhalf in the world and when he’s paired with Owen Farrell, England has tactical nuclear capability in the kicking game.

The Springboks will jol with Faf de Klerk at 9, probably backed up by somebody you’d struggle to pick out of a police lineup.

Tactically, it’s a match-up that England can’t lose. To compound the issue, the tourists are likely to have fullback Mike Brown making decisions about what to do with kick receipt, while the hosts are set to deploy Willie le Roux – a dynamic player but a notorious maverick who has limited range in the kicking game.

Rassie will be flicking through the channels at midnight.

Tank Lanning
Having earmarked Trevor Nyakane as the man to tame Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler in Joburg on Saturday, despite having Wilco Louw and Frans Malherbe available, I am guessing that Rassie already has his local Stilnox supplier on speed dial.

And as my learned colleague has rightfully pointed out, Erasmus will also be scratching his head over who will get the ball from the base of what might be a creaking scrum to his new flyhalf. But having already been asked to change his captain, and now politely requested to pick a different hooker to the one he originally had in mind, the new Bok coach has been confronted with what was always going to be his biggest challenge – managing upwards!

Social media is another tricky hurdle for a modern-day Bok coach, and that will add fuel to the fire. Erasmus says he learned a lot about the media (be it social or mainstream) and how to deal with it in Ireland. But this is South Africa.

The organisation that appointed him have given Erasmus more rope than any of his predecessors enjoyed, and they will now be keen to use said rope to reap a few benefits of their own. Those benefits might not always be aligned with the coach’s objectives.

As history shows, it always starts off like a butterfly landing on a petal, but it changes to a bulldog eating porridge pretty damn quickly when the pressure is on.

Erasmus will have gained valuable experience while plying his trade in the Cape, where the internal politics are at their most vitriolic, but let’s remember that it was precisely those poisonous undertones that drove him away.

Do the wounds remain raw, or have the scars given him a thicker skin?

You’ve heard what they’ve had to say, now where do you stand in the Big Debate?

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    Lack of belief and support from the South African rugby community, I am sure, would be the clear winner!

    • Johan


      Warren, Jaco, Eben, Frans, Marx, Bismarck, Lood, Lizo, Coenie

      To name just a few forwards…

  • DK

    Which backrower to play off the bench – Notshe, Kwagga, Carr…? Are any of them genuinely effective test loosies? Or will there be two locks riding the pine with one covering blindside…?

  • Rassie

    Both wrong.

    I’m sleeping like a baby


      In Rassie we trust

    • Adam

      With Faf finally back in the picture, them dreams should be mighty sweet! He was the ONLY Bok in 2016 to even remotely put his hand up, yet HE ended up being the biggest casualty…. what a joke! Now that the Bokke have a REAL coach again at last, watch how that boykie flies \m/

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Now that’s the answer we want from our head coach :)

  • boyo

    I think the Receipt of the highball will be a worry.

    Just a future topic perhaps but are we finally seeing the fruits of transformation?

    The usual provincial and player preferences debate aside, on merit we will most likely see this weekend the first black springbok captain, a black South African front row, a black center, a reserve flyhalf who is a player of colour. We should have 7/15 players of colour all of whom deserve to be there and when you look around there are more pushing to get into the squad. Its a great position to be in and if we can keep it up can we finally reach a point where we just pick players not percentages?

    Now get the game on the SABC even a day or two later and let the people see this bok side which we should all be backing to beat the poms!

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      It’s on SABC at 18h30 on Saturday

      • boyo

        That is such great news! Thanks for the info I really feel it is such a big thing for the growth of the game in this country.

        • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

          Agreed. Should have been an agreement made years ago. But the SABC are notoriously difficult to deal with. Can’t foot all the blame with SuperSport, who pay a shed load for the rights. Govt should actually be getting involved

          • boyo

            100% the supersport money is helping keep the game at a decent level in this country and the SABC and govt have to come to the party and offer rational and reasonable amounts for the delayed broadcast rights. It seems that at last they are doing so and lets hope that they continue.

  • Herman Schroder?

    I sincerely hope Rassie never posed for that picture as a backdrop to the articles by our two learned writers, lol.

    The writer’s implied that Rassie will adopt the fail safe fall back of ‘skop van der Merwe’ so beloved of the dom krag brigade and I agree. Pollard will be entrusted with this magical tactic ( after all he was brought up on it ) and if, like against Wales, Rassie decides to pick a backline with dazzling feet and then kicks the ‘leather’ off the ball then we will probably end up exactly the same way as we did in the USA.

    Tries win tests these days produced by skilled and visionary players. On the other hand ‘stampkar’ has produced no trophies for SA since 2009, that’s 9 years, spot the problem. Obviously the game must be played with due regard for the basics and physicality is a core part of that, But unless the skills and vision of the right players are in place and they are well coached on the intricacies of expansive rugby we will always be on a hiding to nothing.

    Coaching expansive rugby is far more difficult to coach than the risk free approach. That’s why our SR teams have been doing so poorly these past few years ( Lions excluded ), we do not have the coaches with the rugby nous to implement it with any degree of success. Mitchell has tried it with the Bulls this year to some effect and even he has experienced problems with it. So it’s imperative that the other Franchises get overseas coaches to man the ship because imo the local guys just do not have the ability or vision to turn their Franchises around.

    Franchise coaches normally take their lead from the Bok coach. So Rassie has got an extra responsibility to ensure a more expansive approach and good luck to him on Saturday. It will go a long way to clarifying what his game plan will be and whether he really has the vision and the ability.

    • Mikey

      “I sincerely hope Rassie never posed for that picture as a backdrop to the articles by our two learned writers, lol.”

      He hasn’t…… yet :) And I sincerely hope he never does!

      “Franchise coaches normally take their lead from the Bok coach.”

      Well in this case he is director of SA Rugby as well and so they have to ;)

      • Herman Schroder?

        Mikey, My point was that the Bok coach normally dictates the game plan to the Franchise coaches. Gary Gold ( Sharks ) Coetzee ( Stormers ) and Ludeke ( Bulls ) all followed Heyneke Meyer’s ‘dom krag’ Bok blue print, between 2012 and 2015 and they all deteriorated at a rate of knots in that period and continued even more alarmingly when Alistair Coetzee took over the Bok reins and who kept the Franchises on the ‘dom krag’ path.

        Only one team refused to comply ( the Lions naturally ) and the rest of their tale is history. It took the other Franchises right up until this year, 2018 to finally declare their intent to ‘expand’ their game. That’s six wasted years and Mitchell’s Bulls probably the only one’s to show some progress this year but unfortunately still very inconsistently.

        The Sharks played possibly the best SA match of the season against the Hurricanes over there but still contrived to lose the match. Their inconsistency beggared belief at times and they are nowhere near getting their expansive game on track. Try scoring not their forte and imo I believe du Preez Snr has not got the rugby nous to take the Sharks into a new dawn.

        The Stormers well they’re just pretty awful under Fleck and a total clean out is required at Newlands, administrators and all. The Stormers fans maybe the most loyal in the country but are probably therefore the most abused fans in the country. Funny thing though the Stormers have the largest contingent of players in Rassies Bok squad for the England test, 8 if you include the alternate prop Wilco Louw. That’s a third of the squad. So much for form. Cheers.

        • Mikey

          I know exactly what you are saying Herman, I was just making a joke :)

  • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

    With the Kiwis the “Kings of entertainment and ball in hand” it’s interesting to note that they often kick more than SA teams. They just do it better, and then attack in the right areas. Mitchell’s Bulls have wasted some seriously good passing and offloading in the wrong areas of the field. I am guessing that it is execution of said kicks that Rassie will be spending time on …

    • Rebound

      Well its unbelievably simple why they kick is it not. They want
      a) the opposistion to kick it back so they can counter if the chase is crap
      b) the opposition to run it back and trust their defence to force errors

      Both scenarios lead to what they want, unstructured open rugby. Please stop this barrage of misinformation of Kiwis kick the most, without completing the picture. And really its not about them kicking better, their execution of the kicks and chase are ropey a lot of the times, but the strategy is clear for the whole time, hence it works more then often

      • Mikey

        Excellent post Rebound. I fully agree with point a) and I agree with point b) as well… with 1 exception. If the opposition runs it back with excellence… well… that is definitely not something the Kiwis want. Sure it means that the game is open but that also poses a threat to them i.e. as what happens when Kiwi team vs Kiwi team i.e. the result can go either way. I would also add the obvious addition that SA teams hope for as well when they kick: c) the opposition is hopelessly inefficient defensively against high kicks and other tactical kicks and they (Kiwis) feed off the inevitable errors.

    • Mikey

      Sorry about talking specifically about the ABs above. It applies to to the top Kiwi regional teams as well.

    • Mikey

      Sometimes Tank and you are right they do do it better. But the damning stat is that they also usually carry the ball more than other top international teams. It is the kick to carry ratio that is important not the kicking stat on its own. Also, what kicking are we talking about that they kick more of? Clearing kicks, tactical kicks, attacking dab kicks, up- and-unders, cross kicks etc? And where on the field are the kicks taking place? Is there a stat for aimless kicks? Because the All Blacks also make aimless kicks at times (granted not as much as SA)… they are not perfect (damn close though:)), and then usually fix up their aimless errors with some ball-in-hand attacking play. The point is stating that the All Blacks kick as much or more than other teams means very little without context… you provide some context but not enough :)

      • Herman Schroder?

        Mikey, I am fully in agreement here. One only needs to see how many tries the top 4 teams in SR over say the last three years have scored to quantify the importance of carrying the ball when compared to the tries by the more conservative teams who normally finish in the bottom half of the log. To beat NZ in a test you need to score more tries than them period. You won’t beat them physically, you wont beat them with kicks so your only recourse is to hone your game and perfect your expansive game as much as possible, obviously with due regard for the basics of the game. Those who don’t will always be bridesmaids, never a bride, lol. Cheers.

        • Mikey

          Herman, I literally counted the number of kicks the ABs did last year in 2 of their games. It was their first 2 games of the RC against AUS. In addition I counted how many times a tactical kick or up-and-under or an attacking dab or dink kick resulted in actual points in those 2 games vs ball-in-hand. I gave a leeway of 2 or 3 plays into the future (unless more plays due to obvious logic) to see if points resulted. I counted that only 1 try resulted from a kick over both games (I am talking about AB points only not AUS). All other tries (which there were many of) and penalties were the result of ball-in-hand. I suggest you do the same..actually count how many points come from kicks (with a lee way of 2-4 plays) and how many come from ball-in-hand.

          My last point is… ok… so a kick did result in a significant advantage of 40 meters of territory lets say, and lets say 2 – 4 plays (scrum, line-out, free kick, penalty, turnover etc.) later… there is a try, therefore meaning that a kick did actually result in a try. How do you think the try was scored? What playing soccer until the ball is over the line and then diving on it. No it had to have been scored ball-to-hand (unless with a dab kick or dink over the top that was regathered). So the point I am trying to make is…ok… maybe a kick results in something significant… great… what now? You still need to have excellence with ball-in-hand to consistently convert kicking advantages into points. So we traveled full circle back to need to develop excellent skills with ball-in-hand… I mean if you want to be the bride ;)

  • Mikey

    I reckon a lot is keeping him up at night. Catching high balls, clearing out rucks, discipline, the front row, handling errors, player inexperience, lack of preparation due to the dubious USA test, and uh… losing. 2 losses in a row at the start of your Springbok career must be terrifying him at the moment. That’s what I think he will be worried about… at the moment, but is that all he should be worried about… NO… there is more but realistically the other things he may, or will be worried about now or in the near future… will take a lot longer to figure out and fix.

    It will be a lot easier for Rassie to get the defence right than the attack. So I am hoping at least for a strong defence. I just hope he is more attack-minded than his predecessors.

    Anyway I wish him luck, and I hope he gets a few wins early in his career to give him and the fans some much needed confidence.

    • John Comyn

      In terms of getting the defence right here is what Nienaber said in an interview:

      How do you plan to go about preparing the Boks’ defensive system, considering the limited time you will have to work with the squad before the June Test series against England?

      “The good thing is that we have been spending time with the franchises, and it enables us to gain an understanding of how the players are performing and how they function – not only in matches, but also at training. The first thing is to try to get an in-depth understanding of the skills and where we can go defensively as a Springbok team. I’ve been looking at almost every tackle that is made and working to get a feel for how each player defends. The key is to get a profile of all the players and once we have that, we can consider the defensive route we can go, based on who has been selected.”

      He went on to say 6 to 8 games is what it will probably take.

      • Mikey

        Thanks John… and I am looking forward to it. I like what he is saying and that is pretty meticulous… just the way it should be.There are certainly technical defensive deficiencies throughout SA Rugby currently so I like the fact that he is customising defensive solutions to the individual, and that he is looking at their current skill levels in defence. I hope the same is being done with the offence. Against Wales of course there was some bad defensive errors but already you can see what Nienaber has brought in. There was a definite rush defence against Wales and I was certain the ref was going to blow us for offsides but he never did and so obviously the line speed and timing was impeccable. I don’t know if the rush defence currently is just a band-aid of sorts, or if he is going to stick with it, while he gets his profiles and defensive system fully in place. However, I am not completely sold on Nienaber (maybe only 90% but definitely the best we have), but no doubt his Munster stint has made him an even better defensive coach; so if it will take 6 to 8 games to really hit our straps then his acid test will be against NZ in the RC. If he can stop NZ then I am sold. Once he has his profiles I hope he takes a stonger hand in the Super Rugby and Pro 14 franchises because the defences currently are a joke.

  • John Comyn

    Tank – Trevor is good for 40/50 minutes with Kitsie and Wilco on the bench there is plenty of firepower. If the Poms do kill us at scrum time it will be because we have lightweight hookers and locks. Etzebeth will be sorely missed at scrum time.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      He has improved massively at SuperRugby level and for that he deserves massive credit. He’s an obvious asset round the park. It’s that defensive scrum on the Bok tryline in the first 309 minutes that I worry about. let’s see

      • Jan L

        I expect a loss this first test of the series and will not mind it that much (as long as we still put up a good show) as I think that Rassie (excuse the familiarity, but its easy and short to spell out) is still in the combo building/experimenting phase. It also seems to me that one should talk about a player “being dropped” from the bench to the starting squad as instead the other way round, and I like that, bring some real impact from the bench during the second half and getting stronger towards the end ala All Blacks. Let us also not forget that apart from some omissions from this side due to experimentation, there are also a handful of tough customers on the injury list which should convert the nightmares to fairy dreams.

  • humblepie

    you should not read the articles of these 2 pseudo writers that look at the world through blue and white tinted glasses. They are stuck in the brill cream era when it was still sexy to play kicking rugby combined with compulsory brainless crash rugby.
    We are excited about your upcoming contribution to change things, to bring some brains into our efforts, to employ athletes, to innovate, to surprise and finally to excite the fans….
    The time is now. Make us proud.
    Sleep well and all the best for Saturday.

  • Herman Schroder?

    Amen to that. Cheers.

  • Nick.

    What is ‘the BIG debate’?

    That we have injured players? This is a BIG, MOERSE debate? Injuries that need to be covered in rugby? Really? It seems to me you are making up stuff for lack of any news. Can I find the latest Bok team on this site? hell no….

    Rassie knows more about rugby and the specific players he is working with than any of us, including the writers of this article. [Please correct me if I am wrong here] Bok rugby is back in good hands despite the fact that we have stood still during the Meyer ‘prreshu turns coal into diamonds’ years, and then gone BACKWARDS in the toeti years. I am totally relieved that Rassie is in charge now. Yes’ it’s going to be tough, we start off of the lowest base that Bok rugby has EVER been at, That includes 1974. In fact the only good thing about the 2017/16 Boks in the context of Bok History was that they did not directly represent apartheid.

    Last week’s loss was hardly a shock. particularly when you consider the way the test was arranged by two desperately cash anxious rugby countries coupled with our recent form.

    We have just had 2 years of appallingly coached and managed Springbok teams presided over by probably the worst coach we have ever had. Now we have a coach with Genuine Green Blood who has experienced and excelled in Bok rugby as coach and player at every possible level. What do our learned writers do? The usual I guess. Tank lectures us about scrums because he’s bigger than all of us and Zelim,…..Well, he just looks for something out there that may or may not be grounded in reality.
    Tank, let’s see how the scrums go, and Zelim, let’s see how that ‘notorious maverick’, LeRoux goes on Saturday. The lekker thing about writing blogs is you are never accountable like the players for the big views you profess.

    On the topic of social media and the access we have to general information nowadays, Do yourself a favour and look up Rassie’s interview with the media after the Wales game. Then watch Faf and Vermeulen at the same interview. Compared to the drivel we would constantly hear from Coetzee every week. Granted it’s still only talk, but this is light years away!

    Full support to the Boks.

    • Mikey

      Fantastic post!! Well I guess time will tell whether Rassie hits the highs the fans, and no doubt Rassie and the players, want to achieve. I tend to agree that we are in good hands to compete against the best teams, the question is… will we be able to beat them? Lets see!

  • Nick.

    What’s going on here?

    One of the biggest Saturdays in SA rugby History and absolutely nothing from ‘ALL OUT’……


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