Rassie's an innovator, a genius – Jerry Flannery
It was 2016 at the Castletroy Park Hotel in Limerick when I first met Rassie Erasmus. He was very, very straight with me. I was probably a little bit worried about the dynamic between himself and Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley because Axel was my captain when I played but he said straight away, ‘Listen Jerry, if I’m not the right guy I’ll go. If you are not the right guy, you will go’.
Axel was a big fan of his right from the start and Rassie was really good, brilliant for us. Brilliant for Munster. He got Munster rugby back on track.
Rassie is a forward thinker. He is not looking at doing different things, just doing things differently if that makes sense. There are only so many ways one can do things in rugby and Rassie would think, ‘Okay, how can these things better?’
Everyone goes out and does all their conditioning work, does all their skill work, does all their tactics, but communication is a big part of the game.
How you effectively communicate messages to your players is crucial and Rassie would always be looking at things like that. He is an innovator, a genius.
He left Munster in 2017 with Jacques Nienaber for the Springboks and Felix Jones then went in 2019. Munster was the foundation for Felix and myself from a playing point of view and then we were so lucky they gave us a shot to start off coaching. The fact that Rassie and Jacques came in, we got to see what world-class coaching looks like which was a great start for us both.
Since Felix left Munster I’m very proud of what he has achieved. Rassie and Jacques knew what they were getting when they got him on board, that they got a guy who has got an incredible work ethic, a great eye for detail, and a really good communicator.
Watching the Springboks play, you see a lot of the work that Felix has done around their catch-pass skills, the intricacies of their game without ever taking away from what it is that makes them the world champions, which is their incredible physicality.
He has won a World Cup – he is the only Irishman to have ever done so. He’s also won a Lions Test series and potentially has another chance to win another World Cup.
For Ireland, Johnny Sexton is a guy who is incredibly competitive. He has achieved so much in the game but you can see he is still so hungry to win and that’s it, he is just a competitor and when he is playing, there is always a real personal feel to the Ireland team.
When I say personal, he never wants anyone on the team to take a backward step and when he is on the field Ireland are much better.
This weekend’s other Pool B game is Scotland versus Tonga in Nice and the Scots have to bounce back, they have to put themselves within touching distance of getting out of the group by putting in a strong performance.
I thought Tonga were impressive at times against Ireland, physical. They tested Ireland’s set-piece and they never gave up. I don’t mean that in a condescending manner but you are playing the No1-ranked team in the world and right until the 80th minute I felt they were putting their bodies on the line.
Scotland are now in a position where they have to pull out a big result and get a big performance. Leading into the World Cup they played such great rugby that I think they are probably not over-enamoured how they have gone, so this is going to be a big game for them. Scotland to win.
Switching to England, Marcus Smith has been named at full-back against Chile on Saturday and he is one of the best rugby players I have ever come across. He is a brilliant, brilliant player and is a great guy. I feel very lucky to work with Marcus week in, week out when he is here at Harlequins.
Steve Borthwick has a clear game plan and he is very good at coaching it and it’s about trying to figure out how you can accommodate Marcus into that because what he gives you is something that very, very few players can replicate. He is a game-changer for England.
I feel England showed great character going out against Argentina, particularly when they lost Tom Curry to the red card, and they stuck to their plan, worked like dogs for each other and ground out a really good win.
Sometimes you need something like that as a catalyst for change, to change people’s mindset, to change momentum and England, off the back of that win and also beating Japan, are now generating momentum and are in a pretty good place.
They have obviously got an easier draw to get through to the knockout stages but they showed enough in that game against Argentina to say that they deserve to go through.
The weekend’s other big game is Wales versus Australia in Lyon on Sunday night. I really enjoyed last weekend’s Fiji-Australia game; there were a lot of errors but Fiji were good value for the win. Australia have got so many talented players but I can’t quite put my finger on what their identity is.
Wales are a team that work very, very hard for each other and they play a game plan that suits them, like what Warren Gatland has done for many years and they have got guys who work hard in that. If I was to pick a team to win, Wales would be the team but I’m sure Eddie Jones was unhappy after the Fijian game and he will be making a plan for the Welsh.
- This Rugby World Cup guest column is brought to you in association with the renewed partnership between Harlequins and official trading partner Saxo, a global leader in online investing, for the 2023/2024 Gallagher Premiership season;
- Aside from ex-Ireland hooker-turned-coach Jerry Flannery, England lock Joe Launchbury and Wales legend and Harlequins coach Adam Jones will also be writing columns over the course of the tournament.
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