BLOEMFONTEIN – After going down to Wales in difficult conditions in Washington in his first Test in charge of the Springboks, new national head coach Rassie Erasmus has spoken about the relief he felt after winning the first Test against England last weekend.
A largely second-string Bok side crashed to Wales 10 days ago, handing Erasmus a losing start, but he and his team bounced back last weekend when the Boks beat England in style to win the first of three Tests at Ellis Park.
After being 3-24 down midway through the first half, the Boks rallied to come from behind and win 42-39 in one of the more fascinating and entertaining Test matches seen in a long time on South African soil.
Erasmus admitted after the match on Saturday that he was a worried man in the early stages of the clash, mainly because he had picked so many rookies in the match-day squad and he wasn’t sure how they would respond to being so far behind. But on Monday, when the squad started preparations in Bloemfontein for Saturday’s second Test, Erasmus said there was a sense of relief that the first Test had been won.
“Relief,” he said when asked what emotion summed him up best about the victory last Saturday. “There are so many things that happen in and around our rugby and people talk about rugby being a unifying factor (in this country), but that’s only the case if you win. I’m happy (about the win) for all the other things around it, for the challenges off the field. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m pleased we got the win.”
The match saw flank Siya Kolisi become the Boks’ first black captain, while there were six black Africans picked in the starting team. “The win has allowed us to have some breathing space, to keep trying things,” admitted the coach.
“When you lose, you often end up going all conservative again and we don’t want to do that. Crucially no one in the squad can now also say they haven’t played for the Boks ... two weeks ago there were 16 men who hadn’t felt what Test rugby is about ... the nerves, having to deal with the media, singing the anthem, all that ... now they know. It helps build confidence, and after the win we can now focus on the rugby, coaching, and rugby and coaching. So, in that regard there’s a sense of relief.”
Erasmus is back in the town where he hit the big-time while playing for the Cheetahs and where he started his coaching career. But, he also played and coached in Joburg, venue of last week’s Test, and in Cape Town, destination of the third Test.
“All three venues are where I played and coached, but being here in Bloemfontein, where I learnt my rugby and where I made my debut here, is nice. It’s great being back here. It would be great to wrap up the series here this weekend.”