Rassie Erasmus warns Boks about ‘fast, quick’ British and Irish Lions pack
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CAPE TOWN - The fact that the British and Irish Lions have picked several Scottish backs and a number of quick forwards indicate that they will be going away from the usual Warren Gatland approach against the Springboks.
That was the suggestion from SA Rugby’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who has first-hand experience of ‘Warrenball’ – the measured, conservative game plan involving physically strong players carrying the ball up the middle, with big wings also using the ‘crash-ball’ tactic usually employed by Gatland when he was in charge of Wales.
The person who coined the phrase was former England attack coach Brian Smith, who was also once the London Irish director of rugby during the Lions’ 2013 tour of Australia.
Of course, Gatland had the last laugh as the Lions beat the Wallabies 2-1 in their Test series.
During the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final in Yokohama, the Boks’ patience was also seriously tested by the Welsh, who made liberal use of the boot and tried to lull the South Africans into running the ball back on the counter-attack – so that they can attack the breakdown.
Erasmus insisted that the Boks shouldn’t fall into that trap, and in an extremely tight encounter, Damian de Allende’s outstanding try and a late Handre Pollard penalty secured a 19-16 triumph and a place in the final.
But in 2021, the former Bok head coach is expecting something different from Gatland’s Lions.
“There is an obvious leaning to forwards… I think Scotland have eight players, and I think five of them are backline players. Gregor Townsend is the attack coach, and he is from Scotland. So, that must tell you something – if there are mostly backs from Scotland, and only two or three English backs… And then mostly English and Welsh forwards,” Erasmus said yesterday during an online press conference following the second Springbok alignment camp in Johannesburg.
“If you look at the coaching team, all of these guys have basically worked with Warren before, which is really smart. I think the toughest thing there is to get four countries to play the same and be aligned.
“I think the only guy who hasn’t worked with Warren before is Gregor. I think we will definitely see a mix, of not being the Wales Test-match (style).
“If you look at their pack of forwards, it’s a fast, fast, fast quick pack. If you see the props, they are mobile, quick guys – (Mako) Vunipola is big, but then, the same with the loose forwards… If Courtney Lawes is not a loose forward and plays lock, then all those forwards are fast and all over the place, and busy.
“If that gives you an indication of where our thoughts are going, that is what we are expecting.”
Erasmus and new head coach Jacques Nienaber explained that a 45-man Bok squad will be announced next Saturday, June 5 ahead of the two Tests against Georgia (July 2 and 9), and the three-match Lions series.
The Boks will go into a “hard” bio-bubble when they attend a training camp in Bloemfontein ahead of the first Georgia Test, with Erasmus adding that all the overseas-based players will be available, so the “best possible team” will be selected.
Nienaber added that he “cannot wait” to take charge of his first Test, having been appointed on January 24 last year.
“I just cannot wait! During this alignment camp we just had, my throat is actually sore in the evenings, as I am not used to talking such a lot, and to think so much. The players challenge you mentally and they ask questions – it was so lekker! This is why we do it, it’s why I do it. I love it and I enjoy working with the players, to implement plans and work them out, to see if it works – I cannot wait.”