COMMENT: Blinding lights ... Eccentric genius Rassie Erasmus thinking out of the box again to help Springboks

Rassie Erasmus walks on the pitch ahead of the Springboks opening Rugby World Cup match

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2023 - Pool B - South Africa v Scotland - Orange Velodrome, Marseille, France - September 10, 2023South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has had some rather eccentric ways of helping the Springboks succeed. Photo: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

Published Sep 14, 2023

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Rassie Erasmus’ name seldom stays out of the lights and when he dusted off the disco system he long ago used at the Cheetahs for Sunday’s Springbok World Cup game against Scotland, eyebrows were inevitably raised.

The refrain from a number of folk was along the lines of: “What is he up to this time?” But many have shrugged their shoulders at what seems to be a fairly harmless method of communicating between the coaches up in the stands and their colleagues at pitchside.

I was astounded when a voice of support for Erasmus came from one of his adversaries from the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa two years ago.

No, it wasn’t Warren Gatland but his captain Alun Wyn Jones. Gatland and Jones had plenty to say about Erasmus’ waterboy duties and his video dissection of referee Nic Berry.

Jones, speaking as a guest on an Irish television show, said: “Rassie is eccentric, and hand in hand with that goes genius. You have to hand it to him ... he thinks out of the box.”

I agree with the former Wales captain. Erasmus is consistently ahead of his rivals in terms of his planning and methods.

The Boks are world champions, in no small measure thanks to him, and early into the World Cup in France, the South Africans are tipped by many to hold onto their crown.

But apart from his efficacy as a coach, Erasmus continually has the rugby world talking – and as long as he keeps it tidy with criticism of the officials, this has to be good for the game.

The sport was rich in colourful personalities in the amateur era but as professionalism has worn on, coaches and players have zipped their lips for fear of getting into trouble.

Incoming All Black coach Scott “Razor” Robertson is just about the only other coach I can think of who gives the rugby world more than boring platitudes.

His breakdancing celebrations after big victories by the Crusaders are hugely popular, because it is so seldom that you see a big rugby name unafraid to do something out of the ordinary.

Erasmus’ sidekick, Jacques Nienaber, has explained that the use of the lights in Marseilles was to overcome the din in the stadium.

He said the Boks had learned a lesson from the last time they played at the Stade Velodrome (last November, when they lost 30-26 to France) when the on-field staff could not hear instructions spoken into the mics by the coaches in the stands.

Nienaber insists that the light system – it flashes red, amber, or green – has nothing to do with tactical instruction and is only to communicate about injuries and substitutions.

The guests on the Irish show that featured Jones seemed to think that Erasmus could also be using the lights to convey whether to kick penalties to the corner or for posts.

Former Ireland fullback Rob Kearney reckoned this was not a problem, because coaches get instructions to their captains in this regard via waterboys.

I reckon the return of the lights Erasmus used to help win the Cheetahs the Currie Cup in 2006 adds colour to the World Cup.

No laws are being broken, and it illustrates once again that the Springbok coaching staff are ahead of the pack.