There is method to Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber’s Springbok ‘madness’

Jacques Nienaber (left) anr Rassie Erasmus during a Springbok press conference.

If there is one thing we have learned in the era of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, it is that there will always be a plan for a plan. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 10, 2023

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Don’t worry Mzansi: there is a method to the “RasNaber” madness!

There were plenty of eyebrows raised, and supporters shifted around uncomfortably after seeing four scrumhalves and only one recognised flyhalf in the 33-player Springbok World Cup squad.

Do not even speak about the absence of outside centre Lukhanyo Am and who will fill his mercurial boots at No 13, with Jesse Kriel the only back-up.

And the loss of experienced flyhalf Handré Pollard with the seven-cap Manie Libbok currently the only recognised No 10 and goal-kicker.

These are some of the concerns around the Bok squad going to France to defend their world title. And they are valid concerns.

But if there is one thing we have learned in the era of Rassie Erasmus (as coach and director of rugby), and current Bok coach Jacques Nienaber, it is that there will always be a plan for a plan.

There will always be a back-up to the back-up plan. And that is exactly what is unfolding ahead of the World Cup.

Erasmus and Nienaber had to put contingencies in place to make up for the loss of Pollard, lock Lood de Jager and Am.

And those contingencies proved themselves over the last four Tests in the lead-up to the World Cup squad announcement, that they are the right players.

There is a method to the madness of taking four scrumhalves to the World Cup.

There is a method to the madness of not taking a recognised second flyhalf (for now). There is a method to the madness of taking only two hookers, and having a converted flank as a back-up in the front row.

Some might see it as unusual, while others will brand it as ludicrous, but these players have been working for the Boks.

They were without Pollard since August last year, and Libbok steadily progressed to take the No 10 jersey.

Also, in their last 10 Tests leading up to the World Cup, the Boks have won seven with these players and only lost three: to Ireland, France and New Zealand away from home.

All four scrumhalves at some point ran the show for the Boks behind the forwards, so they wouldn't let the team down when called upon. And almost all of them can perform a secondary role when needed.

They were not just selected to be scrumhalves who must pass and kick.

Faf de Klerk will fill in as a back-up flyhalf. Cobus Reinach and Grant Williams can slot in at wing when push really comes to shove, and Jaden Hendrikse can solely focus on the No 9 duties. And it’s with that in mind that they were all included.

There is also the possibility of having Pollard and Am in the tournament should injuries happen in camp. Looking at the Boks’ history with injuries at the World Cup, you could bet on it happening, but you wouldn’t wish an injury on any of the guys going.

But should it happen, it will open the door for a Pollard or Am to join up with the squad, and all this formed part of the management’s thinking when going for the players they selected.

South Africans should trust what Nienaber and Erasmus are doing with the 33-player squad because even if it seems like madness from the outside, the brains trust of the Boks always work with a method.

That’s how we’ve come to know Bok rugby in the “RasNaber” era.

They will never take an undercooked team to a major tournament and hope to win. They will go there to challenge for the world title – it doesn’t matter who the opposition are.

And these “under-strength” squad talks can be the perfect distraction to lull the Boks’ World Cup opponents into a false sense of confidence, when they face the world champions next month in France.

@Leighton_K

IOL Sport

* The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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