Business Day

Erasmus should have kept mum until after Italy win


There was a sense of perfect timing in the way the Springboks ended off a bizarre week in SA rugby with a performanc­e against Italy that provided the statement of growth many of their supporters have been crying out for.

There was of course some irony too in the sense that had it come a week earlier, Rassie Erasmus would not be facing the prospect of watching a second successive Twickenham Test against England from a hotel room. If he wanted to tweet about the inconsiste­ncy of modern refereeing, after Italy might have been a better time for him to do it if he wanted to be taken seriously.

The time to draw attention to the inconsiste­ncies in refereeing is when you win, not when you lose. Otherwise, it just comes across as a whinge. If being good at whingeing won you World Cups, England wouldn ’ t have just won it once.

It embarrasse­s supporters when it comes across that way. That is probably why Erasmus got less sympathy from his SA fans with his latest suspension for public criticism of refereeing than he did this time last year.

The 2021 outburst against Nic Berry, which took the form of a 62-minute video, was excused by some of us as it was regarded as a one-off and Berry’s performanc­e really was one-sided in Cape Town, plus it was alleged the video was leaked. However, there wasn’t any grey area in the tweets that got Erasmus into trouble again.

That is not to say Erasmus’ grievances aren’t legitimate. Part of Erasmus’s genius is sourced in his passionate attention to what the rest of us might consider minutiae. It was an accumulati­on of small things that contribute­d to the defeats against Ireland and France.

In both those games though the Boks also conspired against themselves by not taking opportunit­ies, which brought the 50/50 calls in as a factor. Loose-forward Kwagga Smith said before the Italy game that the team needed to be more ruthless in converting dominance into points, and if they did that, it would take away the 50/50 calls as a determinan­t of the result.

That’s exactly what happened in Genoa, where there were still refereeing errors, but the Boks were just too far ahead of their opponents for them to affect the result.

Errors such as the failure to sanction an Italian player who was clearly picked up on TV tackling Willie le Roux both very late and apparently without the use of his arms. If the two incidents in Marseille were red cards for Pieter-Steph du Toit and Antoine Dupont, and also the incident in the ScotlandAr­gentina game this past weekend that saw Marcos Kremer sent off, then the one in Genoa definitely was. And yet the referee didn’t even ask the TMO to take a second look.

That is what is meant by inconsiste­ncy and, on a day when the Boks scored nine tries and routed their opponents, it was something Erasmus could have highlighte­d had he been present. Everyone would have been in agreement with him and got the point.

In other ways though the timing of the Bok performanc­e was perfect, for it came during a period where some of the noise around the Bok camp, and we’re not just talking about the Erasmus saga, was starting to take on the look of sheer slapstick farce.

I’ve made my point before that who sleeps with who should be irrelevant in profession­al sport, as long as it doesn’t happen on the field, but the latest developmen­ts around Elton Jantjies and the Bok dietitian, with Jantjies admitting his so-called indiscreti­on but the other party claiming to have a doppelgäng­er, are entering the realms of the unbelievab­le.

With next year’s World Cup in mind, what really matters is the Boks silenced some of that noise with the statement performanc­e that was needed. The promise that had been shown of a switch to a betterbala­nced attacking approach in Marseille was confirmed in Genoa, with the Boks playing with great tempo and the wings doing what wings should be selected to do, which is to ask questions of the opposition.

That’s not to say that it was all just ball in hand, for kicking is a big avenue of attack, and Cheslin Kolbe’s try soon after halftime was a glorious example of that.

But the Boks strengthen­ed undeniably in the past three games, and widened their attacking arsenal, with that area becoming incrementa­lly better. That will make them a lot more formidable opponents this week for England at Twickenham and at next year’s World Cup.

You can’t really quibble any more either that coach Jacques Nienaber hasn’t tested his depth, with Jasper Wiese’s progress in the absence of the rested Duane Vermeulen being one example, and flyhalf and wing being another. If the game growth graph continues its present trajectory, the Boks could reach France as red-hot favourites.*


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