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.
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.
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?