Rassie leaves cork in bottle

Coach hopes to retain feel-good factor by wrapping up the series

Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira will be playing his 100th test for the Springboks in Bloemfontein on Saturday 9 June 2018.
Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira will be playing his 100th test for the Springboks in Bloemfontein on Saturday 9 June 2018.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

Although his selections and the result of the Ellis Park test would have had the hearts of a large swathe of the population beat with pride, Rassie Erasmus at his core remains a pragmatist.

The Bok coach knows the feel-good factor that was so pervading following his team’s 42-39 win has a distinct shelf life.

“Everybody talks about rugby having to be this unifying factor. It will only be a unifying factor if you win,” Erasmus reminded of a truism particularly applicable in the South African sporting context.

Not that he is devoid of a beating heart himself.

Week by week we have to try new things. It won’t be major changes, but one or two subtle changes.
Rassie Erasmus

“I’m so glad for everything else that is happening. I know it is a long road ahead, but there is a lot of good that came out of Saturday for South Africa.”

He was quick to warn of a long road ahead. His default setting over the next year and a bit will be to tinker with his side, irrespective of the previous week’s result.

“It is tempting to stick with the guys to give yourself the best chance of winning on Saturday,” the coach said.

“We’ll try a few things. After this game there’s only 16 games before the World Cup. When you get to New Zealand and Australia you don’t take chances. Argentina away, the same.

“Week by week we have to try new things. It won’t be major changes, but one or two subtle changes.”

But he conceded that the result (and all its spinoffs) was a welcome relief.

“There is some breathing space but we have to keep on trying things.

“When you lose you tend to beFAST come a little narrow-minded. You then tend to make conservative decisions.

“We don’t want to do that if we are going to win a World Cup next year.”

He knows his team will have to deliver a performance with the same work rate and intensity to keep England at bay on Saturday.

He is expecting Saturday’s second test in Bloemfontein to be no less intense than the one that produced more than a point a minute at Ellis Park.

“If you look at the numbers it was really an intense, fast, and open game. It had a number of line breaks and high speed running for props and locks. I guess it will be even more intense as both teams are desperate.

“We would like to bury the test series and they would like to keep it alive. We are playing at altitude again, although not as bad as Joburg.

“The higher the pace of the game, the more space there will be. I guess the intensity is going to be the same, if not higher.”

He is also expecting England to be smarter. The Boks, after all, partly misread them on defence last week.

“Eddie [Jones] is sharp,” Erasmus said of the England coach. “He’ll have a few things up his sleeve.”

The coach said flyhalf Handre Pollard, who picked up a knock to his shoulder, should be ready to take his place on Saturday.

“He’ll be fine. We’ll just manage him through the week.”

He also confirmed that Schalk Brits had also been drafted into the squad and that Tendai Mtawarira would be playing his 100th test on Saturday.

Erasmus may not be one for pomp and ceremony, but he is finding it difficult to avoid at the moment.

Who knows, he may even allow himself a sip should the Boks clinch the series in the place where, he says, he learnt his rugby.

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