Opinion / 4 August 2019, 1:20pm / clinton van der berg
One of the innovations that Rassie Erasmus has brought to the Springboks is the use of a drone during practices. While not quite in the realm of his disco lights of yore, the imagery provided by the drone adds another dimension to rugby, both literally and figuratively.
The coach duly acts on what he sees, explaining to his players the use of space and angles and alignment. It’s yet another example of the meticulous and creative approach that Erasmus brings to his job.
After last weekend’s rousing draw in Wellington, it’s evident that the Springboks have turned the corner. This is significant because at the end of Allister Coetzee’s reign, the Boks appeared to have fallen off the cliff, the 57-0 hammering by the All Blacks the nadir of those dark days.
It’s remarkable how quickly sport can turn, Erasmus winning in New Zealand in his first year demonstrating the power of clarity and confidence.
Erasmus’ fanatical attention to detail, his work ethic and his inventive mind have all been brought to bear. The players have emphatically bought into his vision and ambition.
The plan was always to add layers to the Bok squad. Erasmus did so by sifting through a range of talent - he’s given Test debuts to 22 players - and discarding those who haven’t measured up. Indeed, of the 13 players who debuted in Erasmus’ first match, against Wales 14 months ago, only five remain in the squad.
He’s also built his base through trial and error. His win rate is only 50 percent - eight wins, seven defeats and a draw - but he’s been relentless in identifying new talent along the way.
The coach has always demanded to be judged on results but results alone don’t tell the full story. Part of the narrative has been his commitment to transformation. Another has been to shore up depth, which Erasmus has done.
The scrumhalf stocks are one such example. He gave Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier their first caps, but there’s a new pecking order that reads: (1) Faf de Klerk (2) Herschel Jantjies (3) Cobus Reinach.
The competition for places is furious, which ensures that standards remain high.
It’s a pattern that repeats itself elsewhere: among the props, loose forwards, locks, centres and back three, which gives comfort when you consider rugby’s harsh rate of attrition.
That said, several players have emerged as vital to the Boks’ World Cup ambitions. Malcolm Marx, Handré Pollard, Lukhanyo Am and Pieter-Steph du Toit rank among the team’s spine, plus Siya Kolisi, whose influence and ability to settle his team are critical.
If the Boks are to go on and win the World Cup, you’d like this quartet to be wrapped in cotton wool. They are that precious, the sort of men you would go to war with and far and away the best in their position.
Happily, the Boks have also discovered something of the X-Factor, which comes by way of Herschel Jantjies and Cheslin Kolbe. They play within a structure, but they are raw, instinctive players who offer up surprises and derring-do, innate qualities you can’t begin to coach.
Much can happen in the 48 days between now and the apocalyptic showdown with the All Blacks at the World Cup, but for now hope hangs heavily in the air.