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Rassie's cards: revolutionary or a diversion?

Published Oct 13, 2006

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Do Free State coach Rassie Erasmus's lights actually send important messages to his players on the field, or is it just a simple ploy to tell players when to cause stoppages in a game so that the Cheetahs can regroup and plan a new attack?

While Erasmus has earned himself the nickname "DJ Rassie" for his use of lights to communicate messages to his players during a game, there is a belief in Pretoria rugby circles that Erasmus's ploy is far from revolutionary and more diversionary to ensure longer stoppages to get specific messages to players.

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According to the theory, the lights signal more which players should go down with injury, allowing assistant coach Franco Smith (who acts as a water carrier on the field) to take specific messages to the players during the game.

Erasmus's light show has been a major talking point in South African rugby this season, mainly because it is so different than the ploys being used by other provinces. But it may all end ahead of Saturday's Currie Cup final between the Blue Bulls and the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

According to the rules of SA Rugby, only the medical staff may use the "technical box" - an area set up for the medical personnel and water carriers on the side of the field to stop a constant run of messages filtering on to the field. But Erasmus uses the lights to send messages - as well as ironically still sending Smith - the backline and kicking coach - on to the field as a water carrier to ensure the right message gets on to the field.

Cheetahs team manager Naka Drotske on Thursday defended the action. He denied that the lights were a ploy to ensure the game is slowed down at certain sections of the match, signalling certain players to take a break and ensure a time-out is called.

Erasmus was criticised earlier this year by the Waratahs for the number of time outs and injuries - which they claim were faked - in his team's loss in Sydney in the Super 14.

He was also previously accused of flouting the lawbook by swopping props at pre-determined stages of rugby games in the past.

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But the latest accusations have left Drotske gobsmacked.

"All I can say is that there is a meaning behind the cards and the players know that.

"I can't say more than that, or even if it means something every time we show a coloured card or light. Maybe it doesn't," said Drotske. "There is no way we can slow things down as there is a referee who takes that decision. We can't do that with lights or cards. If it was like that, would Rassie do it himself? People are making too much of the cards."

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Erasmus himself called for a moratorium on the technical areas, saying it was hampering teams getting their messages out to players.

But he laughed off further talk about his lights.

"I really don't understand all the fuss about it," said Erasmus. "It is simply because we are not allowed to send messages on to the field like we were last year. Our medical team are confined to the technical box and we have to find other ways of getting messages on to the field. I think it is something that needs to be looked at in the off-season.

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"I don't try to confine my players in any way or order them to do certain things. I can remember as a player that sometimes coaches called moves and we simply were too tired to do them. It's simply suggestions and letting the players know what we see from up here."

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