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‘Really lekker to be back with the boys again’ – Rassie on the new Bok era

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The 2019 World Cup Springbok squad formed the core of the 2023 group in France, but that is unlikely to be the case again in Australia in 2027.

Rassie Erasmus is happy to be back in the head coach position after his stint as Director of Rugby. File Picture: Craig Watson, INPHO, Shutterstock via BackpagePix 12601452ac

Ashfak Mohamed

DESPITE the Springboks winning two World Cups in a row, 2024 marks the first time that Rassie Erasmus will have a proper four-year cycle to prepare the team for the next edition – and it may just result in a few different ways of doing things.

The former loose forward was first appointed as the Bok boss in 2018, which gave him an effective 18 months to get South Africa ready for Japan 2019.

The innovative Erasmus devised a plan to get the basics in place, concentrating on the defence system that Jacques Nienaber implemented.

It worked a treat as the Boks went all the way and finished things off with two tries in the 32-12 final win over England in Yokohama.

The next stage of their development was going to be set in motion in 2020, where more emphasis was going to be placed on their attacking game.

But then Covid-19 struck, and the Boks didn’t even get onto the field in 2020. By the time the British and Irish Lions arrived for the 2021 three-Test series in Cape Town, the Boks stuck with the 2019 World Cup strategy – and they just hung on via a late Morné Steyn penalty for a 19-16 triumph.

The gradual improvement in the Bok attack was evident after that, although the nature of the 2023 World Cup – where South Africa played five out of the top six teams – saw them relying on the boot of Handré Pollard for heart-stopping one-point victories over France, England and then New Zealand in the final.

The introduction of former All Black flyhalf Tony Brown as the attack coach this week will bring a new dynamic to the Bok attack as Erasmus takes charge as the coach following the departure of Nienaber to Leinster.

“It feels as if it’s three years longer for me to get fired!” Erasmus quipped after introducing Brown and new defence coach Jerry Flannery to the media in Cape Town.

“In all honesty, it’s really lekker to be back with the boys again. When we had the alignment camp and you stand there as a coach, the highs are so high and the lows are low.

“Sometimes people hate you for what you do, but in South Africa currently, the fans, players and media are backing our plans.

“And even if we bugger it up, they sometimes understand. So, four years is a long time to mix and match, and we will certainly do that.”

Erasmus said he will spread the net wider to bring in fresh blood as the evolution of the Bok squad continues.

The 2019 World Cup squad formed the core of the 2023 group in France, but that is unlikely to be the case again in Australia in 2027.

That’s why the Wales Test in London on June 22 and the Portugal clash in Bloemfontein on July 20 will be vital to introduce new faces, while the World Cup players will take on Ireland in July.

“I think it’s definitely going to be different than from 2019 to 2023. I think there will be more new faces in this cycle than there was in the previous cycle, without a doubt,” Erasmus said.

“Just if you look at the average age of the players – it is 32. So, if you keep the same guys, they will be all 36 – that won’t help!

“As coaches and management we must accept that we are going to build on three things, as we said way back in 2018 – squad depth, experience and change, transformation.

“We have to tick all the boxes while trying to win. So, we won’t just sommer (suddenly) against the number-two team in the world, Ireland, chop and change. That would be stupid.”

But the big talking point this week was Siya Kolisi and the Bok captaincy, with Erasmus mentioning during the press conference that he preferred a skipper based in South Africa.

He added that he would “suss out” whether having Kolisi as captain while playing for French club Racing 92 would be viable.

Asked by Independent Newspapers afterwards if there are currently worthy leadership options playing at the SA franchises to replace Kolisi, Erasmus said: “Maybe not of the quality of Siya … But there are good leaders.

“And we don’t always take it to leadership – we take it to ownership. If you get the right people on that bus for the first squad of let’s say 42, and there’s the right people, they don’t need as much a leader, (and rather) all players must take ownership of their individual positions.

“But you would have to look far to find a leader like Siya again. So, that will weigh up very heavily when we make the decision.

“We would definitely have to adjust a little bit with Duane (Vermeulen) retiring and Siya might not be captain … As I say, it will be a big call not to make him captain – because there are so many things going for him that he does well. But yes, we will definitely have to fine-tune a little bit.

“But that’s why we have Jaco Peyper (Bok laws adviser) helping out with small (things) when we coach a player – not just on the field, but also in the lecture room about the referee, his protocols, when do you speak to him and how do you show respect to him without sucking up to him.”

The Sharks’ struggles in the United Rugby Championship this season have raised the question of whether it might impact the Boks, seeing that they have several top players such as Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Eben Etzebeth, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi in their squad.

But Erasmus is not concerned: “No, not really (worried), because the way they coach and what they do is what their current coaching staff and structures are trying to do with them.

“So, we look at fundamentals of the players: what they do on the field, what we are going to accept at the level they must do things for us.

“We don’t look at their tactical play, because we can’t have an influence on that – that is for their coaches and their staff’s job. But we know their performance when it comes to the fundamentals, and if they can do those fundamentals, they can pretty much fit into our game plan.”

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