“I give myself a five out of 10,” he said of his first season in charge, mirroring his team’s 50 percent record across 14 matches. The defeat last weekend thus ended the season as it had begun, the Bok coach’s tenure having launched almost five months ago with a limp defeat to Wales in the wet of Washington.
Given that Erasmus played open cards from the beginning, talking passionately about building a team for the World Cup, he deserves some slack for the underwhelming report card.
We must not forget that he inherited a squad low on confidence and drive. This time last year they looked a shambles.
Slowly but surely Erasmus has begun putting the pieces of his jigsaw together. He has given caps to 19 new players. Inevitably, some grabbed their chance, others did not. Those who emphatically staked a claim include Sbu Nkosi, Embrose Papier, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Cheslin Kolbe and RG Snyman. This isn’t a bad return given the impact each of them has made. None has looked out of their depth.
The trouble with the Bok squad is they never quite got into the rhythm of the Test programme. They couldn’t put together more than two wins on the bounce and, maddeningly, mixed up sublime play with ridiculous. Exhibit number one: Mercurial Malcolm Marx.
Consistency is one of the key pieces missing from the Erasmus jigsaw, although after 14 outings in charge he has a far better idea of who might provide it. Those who don’t will be shown the door.
If there’s a sense that the balance of power is shifting slightly to the Northern hemisphere, this is borne out by the statistics which reveal that Six Nations teams won eight of 13 Test matches against Rugby Championship sides in the past month. It hardly suggests a seismic shift, but it does mean there’s work to be done.
Many of SA’s players looked knackered in Cardiff, a game too far for many. This ought to offer a warning to Springbok bosses, who should embrace the less is more philosophy in World Cup year, resting key players to ensure they arrive fired up in Japan next September.
Issues remain with the back row, who were dominated by Wales at the breakdown.
It’s not necessarily the three best players at six, seven and eight who are required, but the best blend of them. Erasmus, a prodigious loose forward in his day, must find the elusive chemistry.
He will require the same sharp thinking to finesse his midfield. In all, he has played five centre combinations, with varying success. Easily the best of these has been Damien De Allende with Lukhanyo Am. The pair, the one silky, the other strong, were in the vanguard in the two Tests against England and teamed up to shut down New Zealand in the famous win in Wellington.
Am, injured in recent weeks, may be the key to firing up the backline.
For the rest, there’s much to recommend, from Handré Pollard bossing big games to Pieter-Steph du Toit’s remarkable engine.
It’s no bad thing that the Boks remain largely under the radar. Erasmus can still tinker.
It’s all in the timing.@ClintonV