Three weeks later at Loftus Versfeld, the Boks should have beaten the New Zealanders for a second time in less than a month. A late second-half slump sadly put paid to those ideas as the Boks crashed, almost inexplicably, to a 32-30 defeat.
Erasmus had been in charge of the team for just a few months, having taken over from the sacked Allister Coetzee, and already there seemed to be a new energy in the Bok team.
It’s one-one then for Erasmus and his new-look Boks going into Saturday’s match against Steve Hansen’s All Blacks – again in Wellington; just this time the coach has had more than a year working with his crop of players, so they should be in a much better position to tackle the defending Rugby Championship champions.
Seasoned lock-turned-flank Pieter-Steph du Toit is adamant the Boks have never been better prepared for an international season.
“We’re much better prepared than this time last year,” said Du Toit this last week.
“We’ve had lots of time together and the players and coaches now understand and know one another better. In team meetings everyone now contributes, speaks up, makes suggestions, and everyone’s just comfortable, and that plays a massive role.”
Belief and confidence, then, will be high if the Boks can pull off a repeat of last year’s win, and what a boost that would be were they to achieve that on New Zealand soil - against arguably the Rugby World Cup favourites. Because, the next time the teams meet after Saturday’s match will be in their World Cup opening game in Yokohama on September 21.
“Rassie’s main focus last year was to beat New Zealand in New Zealand, and we did that; this year the main focus is to win the World Cup, but that said, we always go out to win every game and imagine if we managed to win again in New Zealand next weekend, what a confidence booster that would be for us, ahead of the World Cup meeting.”
Du Toit, who played against Australia at Ellis Park yesterday, is expected to also run out against the All Blacks.
“It’s going to be an interesting game... Wellington again. We’ve got a few moves and tricks up our sleeve; let’s see how things turn out.”
With 14 Boks already in New Zealand preparing for the Wellington Test, Du Toit will be one of a handful of men who played yesterday who’ll also feature this coming week.
It’s a big ask for a big forward, who saw plenty of action for the Stormers in Super Rugby and also recently suffered a bone bruise. It doesn’t seem to bug the two-time SA Rugby Player of the year.
“I prefer to play every game. I had a bone bruise in my shoulder, but it wasn’t too serious. I’m rested up now and the body feels quite fresh.”
It would also appear as if the 45-Test Bok is now firmly considered a flank rather than a lock, the position where he made his mark, first for the Sharks and more recently the Stormers.
“I would love to say I’m a flank, even though I think I’ve still got a few things to learn,” said the 26-year-old, who captained the Boks in the one-off Test against Wales in Washington last year.
He’s expected to captain the team again this coming weekend.
“I will, however, play wherever the team needs me. If I’m asked to play lock again, I’ll simply put my head down and go and do the job that’s required of me.
“But yes, for this year, and looking ahead, I’m likely to only be considered as a flank. That, though, also depends on who is fit and where I’m needed, and whether I’m playing well enough to be considered for the team.”
How the Boks would love to knock over Hansen’s men, on home soil, again this coming weekend; just to plant that little seed of doubt ahead of that fast-approaching World Cup date in Yokohama in exactly 60 days from today.
As already mentioned, Erasmus has already sent a number of Boks to Wellington to prepare for Saturday’s clash. They are: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Thomas du Toit.@jacq_west