LONDON – Rassie Erasmus is adamant everyone connected with South African rugby will always have the utmost respect for Eddie Jones after the England coach guided Japan to the biggest upset win in the history of the World Cup.
So astonishing was the Brave Blossoms’ 34-32 win over the Springboks at the last edition of the global showpiece that Erasmus said every South African could tell you where they were when a Japan side coached by Jones stunned the rugby world in the southern English town of Brighton on September 19, 2015.
Saturday sees the resurgent Springboks face England at Twickenham in their opening November international, with South Africa having defeated Jones’ current team 2-1 in the three-Test series on home soil in June.
England are without several first-choice players through injury and suspension, but Erasmus was taking nothing for granted against a side under the direction of much-travelled Australian coach Jones, who was also a consultant to the Springbok side that won the 2007 World Cup.
“That day and game (against Japan) is something any South African can always tell you where they were sat, where they were when they watched that game,” Erasmus told reporters after announcing his team to play England at the Springboks’ hotel in London on Thursday.
“That’s why words can always bite you. Eddie is a sharp coach. He knows a lot about South Africa. He helped us win the World Cup in 2007.
“He knows our players and playing style. We’ve played (England) in June, it’s only four or five months down the track. So, we are used to one another, these two teams.”
England are missing first-choice No 8s Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes, while loosehead prop Alec Hepburn will be making his first Test start for the hosts this weekend.
But Erasmus suggested the changes could favour England.
“I wouldn’t say they have a weakness; maybe us not knowing them so well might be to their advantage,” he said.
“It’s not people you see every weekend at Test-match level. There’s a few new faces we haven’t faced before, but doing our homework on them, they look quality players.
“I guess if I say they are thin upfront, they will say between nine and 15 we have two or three caps,” added Erasmus, who is deploying the inexperienced pair of Ivan van Zyl and Damian Willemse at scrumhalf and fullback respectively.
That is because a Test falling outside the official November window means overseas-based stars such as Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux, who both play for English clubs, are unavailable.
“I wouldn’t say that’s a weakness for them. The minute we underestimate them, we’d be surprised.”
As if to underline his point, Erasmus recalled how 20-year-old Sale flank Tom Curry, who will feature in an injury-ravaged England back-row on Saturday, had inspired the Red Rose brigade to a 25-10 win over South Africa in the third Test in Cape Town, a result that saw Jones’ men avoid suffering a series whitewash in June.
“Curry we didn’t know that well in June: we knew he was good over the ball, we knew he had a twin brother – but that’s about all we knew about him,” said former Springbok flank Erasmus.
“And then he really got stuck in there at Newlands, he was one of the big, big reasons why we lost that Test match.
“So, for a young guy like that to step up and come to South Africa and do so well against a full Springbok team is really a tap on his shoulder.
“So, that’s why I’m really very nervous of faces I don’t know so well.”