JOHANNESBURG – You could almost say it is the “dream team” - that is, the make-up of men who’ll take orders from head coach Rassie Erasmus.
And here we’re talking about defence guru Jacques Nienaber, attack consultant Swys de Bruin and off-the-ball specialist, former Sevens star Mzwandile Stick.
The Springbok coaching team of course consists of more men than just these four, but if the Boks are to match the best teams in the world in future, and play attractive attacking rugby that is matched by strong defence, it is this group who’ll be at the centre of it.
Erasmus, who is preparing his team for their first Test of 2018, against Wales in Washington on Saturday, is widely regarded as a smart rugby man, who knows what he wants and how to get it. He won’t easily be influenced from the outside, but that doesn’t mean he’s not open to suggestions.
He knows though he has to be in charge. “The challenge is to stay clear in your thoughts, in your ideas,” he said this week about what he will be up against in the coming months.
“It’s going to be a challenge. We’re such a passionate country, where the fans, the media, the players, everybody has got a great opinion because we all love the game.
“But, if you start listening to every guy, you’re going to get cluttered in what you want to do. The best is to try stay clear of such things. But, it’s also important to be open-minded and take on good advice. If I can get that balance right, we will have good chance (of winning regularly).”
Erasmus is certainly the man in charge at the Boks, and he’s got the full backing of his support staff. Nienaber has walked a long road with him, since their days at the Cheetahs, and Stick, too, is full of praise for the Bok boss.
“Everyone knows what he’s got. To be honest with you, in the short space of time I’ve worked with him, in the last four months, I’ve become stronger as a coach. He trusts me, believes in me,” said Stick.
“We all know what he’s achieved as a coach and for me it’s an honour to be part of his coaching team.”
Stick, as a former Sevens specialist, will have a specific role to play in the team, with Lions coach De Bruin handling the attack, but only on a consultancy basis. The two men know each other well.
“We've known each other for a long time, since when Swys was my coach in the Sharks Under-21 days ... I was one of his favourite players,” joked Stick yesterday. “My focus here at the Boks is more on the off-the-ball-stuff ... I think we’ve been lacking there. Our rugby has always focused on what needs to be done with the ball, but we’ve never focused properly on the movement around the ball.
“Look at the New Zealand teams; all their players are always in motion, ready to attack. Also, I’ll deal with the individual skills, one of my strengths, to show players the space that’s available to them ... rather than running over players, the kind of physicality we’ve always been known for.”
Nienaber will handle the defensive systems, his speciality for years now, while De Bruin, whose Lions team are the runaway try-scorers in the Super Rugby competition, will be more focused on attack and the actual specific plays of the backline.”
Erasmus certainly seems to have his ducks in a row, with all bases covered.
Meanwhile, expect a young team to be named today for the Wales Test.
The back-three are likely to be Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel and Makazole Mapimpi, with the centres Jesse Kriel and Andre Esterhuizen. Elton Jantjies will be the marshal at 10, with Ivan van Zyl - an excellent kicker of the ball - possibly the scrumhalf. Embrose Papier,however, is also in the running - a player Stick feels has the X-factor.
A back-row of Dan du Preez, Oupa Mohoje and Kwagga Smith looks to be on the cards, with Jason Jenkins and Pieter-Steph du Toit in the second row.
Who between Wilco Louw, Thomas du Toit and Frans Malherbe starts at tighthead will be revealed today, but there’s every chance Ox Nche will start at loosehead. The starting hooker is likely to be Akker van der Merwe.