This week in London, Rassie Erasmus was asked for his impressions of England coach Eddie Jones.
His diplomatic answer talked up his opposite number at Twickenham today but one wonders what the Springbok coach truly thinks about a rival he has been trying to out-manoeuvre all year.
“Any South African can tell you where they were when they watched Japan beat the Springboks ... Eddie is a sharp coach. He knows a lot about South Africa. He helped us win the World Cup in 2007.”
That monumental win meant Jones could write his own cheque when England came knocking after they had been dumped out of their own World Cup in 2015. The Stormers were dropped like a bad habit and Eddie has been in charge of the Red Rose army ever since.
And they rampaged to 18 consecutive wins before last year running out of steam in the Six Nations, stumbling to a fifth-place finish.
They have been under siege ever since, with their win over an experimental Springbok team in the dead rubber third Test in June halting a five-match losing streak and earning Jones a reprieve.
There is an educated school of thought that Jones is essentially a Mr Fixit who can come in and sort out a mess in no time but in the long run he overcomplicates things. It is known that he works an 18-hour day and expects something similar of his assistants.
It has been said that Jones can’t help himself from tinkering with a winning formula until it becomes a losing formula. It would explain why the 58-year-old Australian is so well travelled. He has variously coached Randwick in Sydney, Japan (twice), Suntory Goliath (twice), the Brumbies, Australia, Saracens (twice), the Queensland Reds as well as famously assisting Jake White in 2007.
Before taking up his position with the Boks that year, Eddie had suffered the ignominy of his Reds team losing 92-3 to the Bulls at Loftus. I was in Brisbane when the Sharks hammered that same abject Reds team and walking past their change-room witnessed Eddie seeing Red.
He was telling the players: “You are as soft as warm s..t.”
His foul mood that season cost him dearly. He was fined $10 000 for calling the performance of referee Matt Goddard “disgraceful” and “lacking common sense” after a 6-3 loss to his former side, the Brumbies. Choice words for a former school principal. That’s right. Jones is a school teacher by trade.
Unsurprisingly, he moved on to London club Saracens.
And in London this week, Erasmus fittingly said that “words can get a coach into trouble,” when he declined to comment on Jones’ peculiar decision to appoint two captains for today’s match in flyhalf Owen Farrell and hooker Dylan Hartley.
Eyebrows have also been raised at Jones’ recent appointment of controversial former captain Will Carling to his backroom staff. One pundit, former England flyhalf Stuart Barnes, described this as Jones “searching for another shiny trinket.” Erasmus, of course, has been no stranger himself to wily plotting and planning in his successful coaching career.
After retiring as a player he had immediate success with the Cheetahs, steering them to Currie Cup titles in 2005 and 2006.
Those were the days of the disco lights on the roof of the Free State Stadium, Erasmus’ colourful way of communicating with his players on the field. He also flashed colour cards to the players, with a certain colour carrying the instruction to kick more, and so on.
Never shy to miss a trick when he was a callow coach, Erasmus was rumoured to have spied on opponents. When he left the Cheetahs to take up a position at Western Province, there was the curious sight of the Cheetahs remaining on the field at Newlands in their first game there post-Rassie. The speculation was that the Cheetahs feared their change room was bugged!
Whatever the case Rassie gets results, and it has to be said the 46-year-old has matured after his prosperous stint with Munster.
And yes he occasionally bend the rules or in one case scraps them. We are talking about him being part of the decision to create a 30-cap qualification rule for overseas-based Boks to again be selected.
That was in his first year as Director of Rugby at SA Rugby, and coach Allister Coetzee was hampered by the rule, but when Rassie stepped in as coach earlier this year, he scrapped the rule!
So we have Eddie versus Rassie this afternoon two more cunning strategists you will not chance to meet. Good luck in figuring out who will out-plot who.