Cape Times

Rassie says SA cutting edge vital between the World Cups

- ASHFAK MOHAMED ashfak.mohamed@inl.co.za

SOMETIMES in rugby, you hear of the ‘high risk, high reward’ approach where teams chance their arms on attack or defence, and either pull it off or end up with egg on their faces.

For the Springboks over the last two World Cups, their high risk, high reward mindset paid off in the shape of two consecutiv­e Webb Ellis Cups in 2019 and 2023.

And that didn’t have anything to do with a ruck or snazzy backline move, but rather testing out players in different scenarios in order to peak at the World Cup.

When Rassie Erasmus took over as Springbok coach in 2018, he had about 18 months to prepare for Japan 2019.

With his defence lieutenant Jacques Nienaber in tow, they implemente­d a new defence system, following the travails of some big defeats on Allister Coetzee’s watch in 2016 and 2017.

The Boks earned just a 50 win percentage in 2018, having won and lost seven matches apiece.

If they hadn’t gone on to win the 2019 World Cup, Erasmus may have been relieved of his duties as a consequenc­e – but the gamble paid off as they claimed their third world title in Yokohama, and also had a win percentage of 83.33%, with 10 wins, a draw and a loss.

After Covid-19 sidelined them in 2020, South Africa had identical records in 2021 and 2022: won eight and lost five, for a win percentage of 61.53%.

Having secured back-to-back crowns, though, Erasmus is a hero for Springbok fans right now.

But to have reached those heights required tough decisions in playing style and selection. Just in the last two years, the likes of wings KurtLee Arendse and Canan Moodie have emerged as world-beaters, and a number of other fringe players were blooded.

Asked if the Boks would be chasing a better win percentage between World Cups ahead of the 2027 edition in Australia, Erasmus said in Cape Town this week: “I’m not sure, to be honest with you.

“I’m not sure building a squad, trialling guys and giving guys opportunit­y, and making sure we always improve on squad depth …

“Always change, doing transforma­tion – and by that, I’m not saying black in, white out. I’m saying change – change the way you do things, trying to stay cutting edge, trying to stay up there …

“By doing that, sometimes you have to try things, and we certainly did in losing Test matches over the last couple of years between Rugby World Cups – by trying things to know the answers before we get to the World Cup.

“It would be wonderful as head coach that we do better between the World Cups. But then again, do you want to peak and have all the answers in the World Cup?

“We’ve had two runs now at doing it, and in 2020 Covid did bugger us around a bit. But we’ve got a clean slate over the next four years. We’re three months into the first year already.

“I would rather win the World Cup than sit at 88 or 82 or 83 (win percentage) – it’s for me a better result than consistent­ly not winning the World Cup at all, but being at 80 or 85%.

“I’m not 100% sure. We would love to get that win percentage up, but we surely have to be brave and take chances with youngsters, and get those few things right.”

Erasmus will have another chance to experiment and assess new players’ readiness for the Test arena in the opening match of 2024 against Wales at Twickenham in London on June 22.

That date is outside the internatio­nal window, and is the same day that the United Rugby Championsh­ip final will take place – so a whole host of overseas-based stars won’t be available, as well as locally-based players involved in the URC decider.

“The Wales Test is outside the Test window, so with the 43 boys who were here for the alignment camp, the team will probably come out of them – plus a few Japanese-based players,” Erasmus said.

“So, no English, French … and we’re not quite sure about those playing in Ireland like RG (Snyman), and then someone like (Steven) Kitshoff at Ulster. The URC final is also on that weekend, so there will be other guys playing in that (Wales) Test match.

“But it is almost a stand-alone Test match, because the guys who will be playing there, some of them won’t be playing in the Ireland Test match.

“I won’t put it out as a warm-up match for Ireland, but as a big Test match against Wales, who are trying to fire – not fire somebody, but fire to get on the right path!

“They have some young guns in there who are close to producing some magic, so they will be tough Test matches against all four countries (including Portugal on July 20).”

 ?? | BackpagePi­x ?? RASSIE Erasmus.
| BackpagePi­x RASSIE Erasmus.

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