Rassie Erasmus wants ‘big and young dogs’ to bark at Springbok door

Willie le Roux, who has 93 Springbok Test caps, can still play a vital role in moulding youngsters such as Canan Moodie this year. Photo: Reuters

Willie le Roux, who has 93 Springbok Test caps, can still play a vital role in moulding youngsters such as Canan Moodie this year. Photo: Reuters

Published Mar 14, 2024

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The Springboks will throughout the next couple of seasons ensure they have sufficient depth in most positions as they start building towards the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia.

Under coach Rassie Erasmus, the Boks will look to win a third successive title Down Under.

And with a handful of double world champions already in their 30s and most likely not making it to Australia, the Bok management want to have players in place who can step in when they are needed at a big tournament.

For a big part of 2023, ahead of the World Cup in France, South Africa under former coach Jacques Nienaber tried Faf de Klerk at flyhalf for instance, and Grant Williams on the wing – even though both are at home behind the scrum – just to expand their options.

Deon Fourie mostly played as a flank, but in the World Cup final, he had to switch to hooker to help the Boks to victory over the All Blacks after an early injury to Bongi Mbonambi.

The coaches intend to have specialist cover for most of the positions, but that is not to say the utility player will become a rare species in SA rugby. A third and fourth-choice player as back-up is what Erasmus and his assistants ideally want.

“We will continue planning like we do, where we have two big dogs in the team and a young dog barking at the door to come in,” Erasmus said this week of the immediate plans ahead of the first Test of 2024 against Wales in London on June 22.

“In 2023, we thought we might not have all the back-up, but if you think about it, we tried a helluva lot of things to have the back-up. We will do that again.

“If you can remember, we beat New Zealand in Mbombela, and we started Joseph (Dweba) in Joburg (the following week) purely to see if this can be done. We wanted to check certain boxes to see if he could fit in there.

“But at the end of the day, a Deon Fourie just made more sense for us. And that specific thing was to get Handré (Pollard during the World Cup) in.

“Some guys are coming through (to fill specialist spots), guys we met now at the alignment camp who I haven’t met before. That is why the alignment camps are so important.

“That player can know how he’ll get into the Springboks side, get aligned with the coaches. Don’t play how they (the coaches) want you to play, but you must be able to do X, Y, and Z.

“We shared a lot of that (detail). And hopefully by planning like we do, when we go into 2027, we have those players in place.”

Some of the uncapped players who were invited to the alignment camp in Cape Town last week included Neethling Fouché (Stormers), Mpilo Gumede (Bulls), Jan-Hendrik Wessels (Bulls), Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Stormers) and Sanele Nohamba (Lions).

Erasmus added that the older guys will have a role to play over the next couple of seasons to carry over the knowledge to the new faces coming in.

Even if they’ve been with the Boks for two World Cup cycles, Erasmus is not discarding some players reaching the end of their international careers.

He will, at least for the next season, use them while they carry over some of their expertise to the younger generation.

Players that spring to mind are props Trevor Nyakane and Vincent Koch in the front row, while Willie le Roux – someone close to reaching his 100th Test cap – will have a big role to fulfil as the Boks continue to blood new players.

“We’ve established a roadmap in 2018 of the players already, and know who will make it to 2027 and who can go another year,” Erasmus said.

“We have given them specific tasks to help the youngsters. Or before they leave here, maybe reach their 100th Test – they are still good enough.

“They will certainly be used against Ireland, who is number two in the world – we have to rectify things because we haven’t beaten them since 2016.

“And then, afterwards, we will gradually assist them when we think this papa is ready to say goodbye.

“Some guys in their 30s still believe they can go to another World Cup. Ireland’s Johnny Sexton was 39 when they fell out, but I don’t see our age (at the 2027 tournament) going over the average of 29 or 30.”

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