CAPE TOWN – Although it’s “nicer to learn out of winning”, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus believes their 25-10 defeat against England provided a few valuable lessons with regards to playing in wet conditions.
It was a game the Boks would much rather forget. On a wet and slippery Newlands pitch, England skipper Owen Farrell produced a masterclass in tactical kicking and contributed 20 points, while the Boks conceded too many penalties - which wasn’t made any easier by Glen Jackson’s calls at the breakdown - and also missed the strong forward performances we’ve seen the last two weeks.
And although the series was clinched in Bloemfontein, the third and final Test is one Erasmus described as “terrible”.
“We were terrible today, in my opinion,” Erasmus said after the game.
“It is nicer to learn out of winning it’s not nice learning when you’re losing.
“In the first half we were good, but we gave away too many penalties. In the second half, they just built the pressure and we couldn’t get out of our own half.”
While he was quick to admit that the Boks just weren’t good enough on the day, Erasmus seemed confident they can do some fixing ahead of the more testing matches, which will come in the Rugby Championship.
“If we’d lost the first game and won the last two it would be better - it’ll be six weeks until we play again,” he said.
“But it’s bad to lose and we spoke about it and we will be ready for the Rugby Championship.
“We must now learn from this and do a review.”
The Boks’ tactical kicking and decision-making was also disappointing at Newlands, and while the team, as a collective, obviously didn’t perform well, no one will be more disappointed in his performance than Elton Jantjies.
Whether Jantjies is a player for the international stage or just a Super Rugby star is a debate that has never failed to make rugby’s hot-topic list. But if there was ever a performance by the flyhalf that strongly suggested that he perhaps just isn’t up to it, it’s the shocker he had at Newlands.
In that game, Jantjies missed a relatively straightforward penalty kick early on, dropped two high balls under little pressure, had a kick charged down and just failed to run the show in general.
Erasmus - who hinted that young flyhalf Damian Willemse could come into the mix for the Rugby Championship as the Bok mentor wants to build depth - refused to put all the blame on Jantjies and explained that the changes he made for the wet Test - four in the backline - in order to experiment might have played a part in Jantjies’ struggles.
“In this game and Elton will tell you this himself because he is a grown man the pressure was piling up on him as the charge down showed,” Erasmus said.
“The pack wasn’t really dominating like they had in the previous games. There was a young inside centre and a new outside centre coupled with difficult weather conditions and he was put in a position to sink or swim.
“It as definitely not just an Elton problem because overall our pack didn’t dominate the match. In the first two Tests Handre Pollard almost had an arm-chair ride, and in this game Elton was under a lot more pressure.
“People on the outside might be thinking this is last chance saloon for Elton, but we might be thinking more long-term. We didn’t just learn about Elton today we learned about playing in wet weather and managing the game.
“He is a strong character and he has a few Super Rugby games now to get his confidence back.”
Someone who was much more positive following the game was England coach Eddie Jones. While relief must have been all round in the England change-room at Newlands as they broke their five-Test losing streak, Jones praised Erasmus’ contributions to the Boks.
“Rassie has done a good job of getting some wins for the side early,” said Jones. “The big difference between the Springboks now and the Springboks six months ago is that they work harder off the ball.
“They’ve got a strong maul, which is a big strength of South African rugby, and then when the opportunity comes they have the ability to spread the ball into space and they have guys on the outside who have the ability to make good decisions.
“They’ll continue to get stronger.”
On the quality of the series, Jones said: “I thought it was a great series. For the health of Test rugby it was fantastic. The South African side are revitalised, well coached with a good balance of players.
“For the first two games South Africa were too good. They deserved to win the series, but there were only small margins in it. I feel better than I did on the first two weekends, but that only lasts for about three or four hours. Then you’re back on the treadmill again.”