‘We’re not friends’: Will Rassie Erasmus fall for Warren Gatland’s bait?
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CAPE TOWN – Rassie Erasmus is “not friends” with Warren Gatland, but he does appreciate the British and Irish Lions coach’s ability to change tack when required – and he might just fall for the bait!
The former Springbok coach – now the director of rugby at SA Rugby – is excited about facing Gatland again alongside Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber when the Lions come to South Africa in July.
There were some gritty battles between Wales and the Boks in recent years, with Erasmus and Gatland almost cancelling each other out by employing a chess-game type of approach.
In the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final, it went down to the bitter end, with the Boks emerging 19-16 winners courtesy of a late Handre Pollard penalty.
But Erasmus explained to the SA media last Friday that he is expecting something different from Gatland and the Lions this time around, considering the types of backs and forwards he has selected in the 37-man tour party.
In a later press conference with the UK media, the former Bok loose forward said he respected Gatland’s conduct as a coach.
“Even if I didn’t rate him, I would have to say I do rate him highly on this interview! But luckily, I don’t have to lie. Look, we are not friends – I don’t go and have a barbecue with him when I see him – but he’s one of the guys I have always felt is there with the right intention when coaching,” Erasmus said.
“It is never this weird thing that happens in the week leading up to the match, or this weird, funny feeling after a match – lose or win. I enjoy him as a person, and I think we – Warren, Jacques and I – are very similar in mindset in terms of coaching, and that is why it is always such a weird tussle when we play each other.
“But the way Warren has picked this side and the way he’s picked his support staff and assistant coaches – and the Scottish backline players and Gregor in there – I think he’s got something up his sleeve.
“I don’t think we are going to see this battle of attrition, grinding it out like in the World Cup. I think he’s got other plans, and with the tour finishing with two highveld games – and the loose forwards he’s picked, I think he’s got a few plans.
“Because he has done it so much, coaching the Lions, he obviously knows what the pitfalls are in getting the guys aligned. I think we will definitely see some change in his game plan, but he might just be throwing us some bait – I’m not sure!”
Nienaber, who will announce his first 45-man Bok squad on Saturday for the two Tests against Georgia (July 2 and 9), as well as the Lions series, was also cagey about what he expects from the Lions.
“I think he (Gatland) has selected a well-balanced side. If you think about how many fullbacks he selected… You could say Stuart Hogg, Elliot Daly, Liam Williams, Anthony Watson – and others as well, like Josh Adams, Louis Rees-Zammit, they are all good under the high ball,” the former defence coach said.
“Duhan van der Merwe has improved a hell of a lot. So, they can go the aerial route, but if you look at the magic of Finn Russell and Ali Price, it’s a good combination there.
“It looks like he can literally go coast-to-coast, and then adapt and go with a massive kicking game. A nine and 10 that can kick, and then if he goes with (Owen) Farrell at 12, another kicker. Left and right-foot options – he can go with a kicking or running game. I’m not sure, and as Rassie said, maybe he is just throwing us bait!
“But I’m not sure what he can go with. It will be a nice challenge.”