Rassie Erasmus absence adds new dynamic for Springboks and Jacques Nienaber
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CAPE TOWN - WHAT effect will the absence of Rassie Erasmus have on the Springboks and head coach Jacques Nienaber in the initial stages of their Rugby Championship tour to Australia?
The world champions arrived in Brisbane on Friday ahead of their first match of the trip against the Wallabies on September 12 at the CBUS Super Stadium in Gold Coast.
They meet the Aussies again a week later at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, before facing the All Blacks in Townsville and Gold Coast.
SA Rugby announced this week that director of rugby Erasmus – who played a prominent role during the British and Irish Lions series – would stay at home “for the opening stages of the tour”.
“Rassie has decided to remain in South Africa for now to allow the focus around the team to remain on the Rugby Championship and the team itself so that they can perform to the best of their ability on the field,” Nienaber said.
“He will continue to play active role in our team and coaches meetings throughout the tour, and schedule permitting, he may join us later on.”
So, while the former loose forward will be involved via online meetings, he won’t be physically present with the management and players, which adds a new dynamic to Nienaber’s role.
Well, Nienaber won’t have Erasmus barking out instructions to the players during every stoppage in play, at least against Australia – something which, rightly or wrongly, was a big part of the Bok approach in the Lions series.
Assistant coaches Mzwandile Stick and Deon Davids could fulfil that ‘water boy’ role, but it could also be a chance to give greater responsibility to captain Siya Kolisi and the players to make their own decisions in the heat of the battle.
It is also an opportunity for Nienaber to prove that he is so much more than just a defence guru. While the defence is still his responsibility, he needs to show that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Boks can’t expand their horizons.
While a pragmatic playing approach served the South Africans well against the Lions, it must be remembered that they lost 23-13 to the All Blacks at the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup despite trailing by four points at one stage.
Despite labels of ‘boring rugby’, Nienaber felt the Boks created enough opportunities on attack against the Lions, and that their finishing had let them down.
So, the next step in the South Africans’ progress is to be more ruthless with ball-in-hand.
It is about finding the jumpers and converting from line-outs inside the opposition 22 instead of overthrows or mauls being stopped; about stretching the defence through a mixture of passing, grubbers and cross-kicks; and not over-relying on box-kicks to set up attacking opportunities.
They say variety is the spice of life, and it is a concept that was vital to the Bok victory against the Kiwis in 2018.
Upon arrival in Australia, the coach said: “We are playing against Australia in back-to-back matches on their home patch with supporters in the stadiums – which is something we haven’t experienced since the Rugby World Cup final in 2019 – and then we face the task of playing two Tests in a row against New Zealand.
“So, we are under no illusions about the challenge that awaits us. That said, we have achieved rewarding results so far this season with the structures and systems we have in place, and the sooner we get back into swing of things, the better prepared we will be when we take the field.”
Props: Thomas du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Ox Nché, Trevor Nyakane.
Hookers: Joseph Dweba, Johan Grobbelaar, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi.
Locks: Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Franco Mostert, Marvin Orie.
Loose forwards: Siya Kolisi, Kwagga Smith, Marco van Staden, Duane Vermeulen, Jasper Wiese, Dan du Preez.
Utility forwards: Rynhardt Elstadt, Jean-Luc du Preez
Scrum-halves: Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, Grant Williams. Flyhalves: Elton Jantjies, Handré Pollard, Morné Steyn.
Midfielders: Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel.
Outside Backs: Aphelele Fassi, Cheslin Kolbe, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Rosko Specman.
Utility backs: Damian Willemse, Frans Steyn.