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The terrifying Boks' message Rassie is about to send rugby

By Daniel Gallan
Damian de Allende, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Grant Williams and Ben-Jason Dixon of South Africa during the national anthem prior to the Summer Rugby International match between South Africa and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on June 22, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Gaspafotos/MB Media/Getty Images)

“Siya will be captain, and Siya will play six flank, and Siya is fit, and Siya’s got no injury, and Siya’s not fat, and Siya’s not transparent.”

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That was Rassie Erasmus’ staunch endorsement of Siya Kolisi, who copped heavy criticism from Jacky Lorenzetti, the owner of Kolisi’s club, Racing 92, when he suggested that the double World Cup winning skipper had let himself go.

For South African rugby fans, who have elevated Kolisi to the level of a demigod, this was an almost unforgivable sleight. Erasmus coming to the defence of one of Mzanzi’s greatest sons helped reset the discourse.

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The Boks office team assess the Tony Brown factor on the SA game

Video Spacer

The Boks office team assess the Tony Brown factor on the SA game

But more interesting than the squashing of body shaming was the insistence that Kolisi will continue to lead the team. There were suggestions that Kolisi, having left South Africa to play his club rugby in France, would be stationed too far away from headquarters to steer the ship in this next World Cup cycle. That someone closer to home, with their boots on South African soil, would be better suited.

There was no shortage of candidates. Bongi Mbonambi served as an able deputy during the World Cup last year. Eben Etzebeth is a figure that commands respect and admiration. Lukhanyo Am possesses an astute rugby brain and already captains his domestic team. All would have been universally supported if handed the armband.

Erasmus ignored them all and opted to adhere to the old adage that says if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. More of the same seems to be the message being espoused. If that is the case, it provides some insight into how Erasmus plans on navigating these next few years.

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The Springboks coach has made no bones about the importance of the World Cup. Perhaps more than any other head coach – with the possible exception of Eddie Jones – Erasmus has placed all his eggs in the golden Webb Ellis Cup. Sacrificing defeats between the quadrennial tournament has been justified as long as a glorious end could justify those fallow years.

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But something has appeared to shift. Not just in Erasmus’s captaincy selection, but in the broader squad he has assembled. Rather than fixing his sights on one trophy over the horizon, the Springboks are gearing themselves up to target short-term domination.

Most in the recently named squad have featured regularly over the past eight years. And when one starts to guess the match-day 23 for the first Test against Ireland next week, a strong feeling of deja vu begins to take hold.

A back three of Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse is expected to play, picking up where they left off against the All Blacks in Paris last November. Damian Willemse’s injury means he won’t take part. All four featured against the All Blacks in Paris last November with two of them starting against England in Yokohama in 2019.

The predicted half-back pair of Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard started both finals and the midfield combination of Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende formed a formidable union throughout the run to the showpiece match in Paris.

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South Africa Faf de Klerk Fantasy Rugby
Faf de Klerk – PA

The pack is largely unchanged. Kolisi, Etzebeth, Mbonambi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Franco Mostert, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman and Kwagga Smith have all been mainstays for the Boks for the past eight years. So have a clutch of important backs including Am, Cobus Reinach, Makazole Mapimpi and Andre Esterhuizen.

Continuity is a virtue, one that breeds consistency both when it comes to organising on-field strategies as well as creating a cohesive culture off the park. It’s why the recently retired Duane Vermuelen – not yet an elite coach by Erasmus’ own admission – was drafted straight into the Springboks coach’s box immediately after hanging up his boots.

But continuity can have an unintended consequence. If so many players keep their spot, justified though their continued selection may be, it stifles the progress of those waiting on the fringe.

Erasmus has been conscious of this for some time. This is why his tenure has been defined by constant rotation. In the build up to the World Cup quarter-final against France last year, he joked that opposition teams would struggle to analyse his game plan given the ever-changing make-up of the group.

That ethos has apparently gone out the window. Now Erasmus is keen to cement his team’s status as one of the best of all time. If there has been one blight on this group it has been their inability to win Rugby Championship titles or achieve a clean sweep of an autumn tour to the northern hemisphere.

One Rugby Championship win in 12 years – in 2019 when the tournament was truncated to accommodate the World Cup – is a poor return. This has to change and with New Zealand undergoing a period of transition, and an Australian outfit still reeling from a calamitous 18 months, there has never been a better opportunity to take control of southern hemisphere rugby for the foreseeable future.

Erasmus will look to do that with players who have already brought him so much glory, but the age-profiles of some key men is a concern if a World Cup three-peat is to be achieved. Will Nyakane (35-years-old), le Roux (34), Reinach (34), Koch (34), Mapimpi (33), Mostert (33), Mbonambi (33), Malherbe (33), Kolisi (33), de Klerk (32), de Allende (32) and Etzebeth (32) be around for their title defence in Australia in 2027? Perhaps not.

The point is that it doesn’t matter. Not really. Because though winning another World Cup remains a priority for anyone associated with the Springboks, a period of dominance has now become their primary goal. Sacrificing long-term gains for short-term wins might be a departure from Erasmus’ previous thinking, but it should send a terrifying message to the rest of the rugby world.

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17 Comments
R
Red and White Dynamight 13 days ago

Hard to take Erasmus seriously. He/Boks are acting like theyre the 2015 ABs. Kolisi looks good on the Weetbix packet but he’s half the player of an Etsebeth or PSDT. Erasmus will use all his BS mindgames and swagger for Ireland because he knows Boks are at home. And we all know SA are a rule unto themselves at home, opposition are playing the Bok team AND the administrators/broadcasters/stadiums/TMOs who regularly thumb their nose at WR and those pesky ‘rules’.

S
Shaylen 15 days ago

He may be targeting a period of dominance but the question is whether or not the selected team will have the legs to do it. The squad average age is 29 and the problem with an older squad in an age of faster rugby is that you can be a little off the pace. The laws are changing to suit faster rugby with continuity in possession and the game is set to take on a more attritional feel and look with higher ball in play times and more rucks and open play. Despite the big win against Wales the players looked a bit off the pace at times. The power and physical presence was there but the real question for this squad will be whether or not they can put in the same intensity levels and maintain that for long periods

J
JD Kiwi 15 days ago

Rassie is simply making the most of the golden generation blooded by Meyer and Coetzee, that he turned into world beaters. They're still around their peak so why not get all the success he can from them? Who knows whether the next generation of forwards will have the same depth of quality.

B
Bull Shark 15 days ago

100% on the money.

No other springbok team has had the same coach for more than 4 years.

Rassie built the foundations between 2016/18. There’s no need to only focus on world cups anymore. They’ve hit that mark twice.

Like I’ve said before - his goal now is to to beat the Irish. To win a RC in 2024. And to continue dominating AND win a World Cup in 2027. He himself has said it - that the boks should aim to be as great as the All Blacks have been at being dominant, and sustainably.

So the wet blankets who go on about the boks win ratios can start piping down. It’s growing hairs.

H
Howard 15 days ago

I think he wants to put the Irish bogey to rest. The younger players will gradually be introduced after that.

T
Turlough 16 days ago

The SA Autumn tour is Scotland, England, Wales and I would be very suprised if guys for the future were not blooded then.
It is harder to ‘evolve’ a team to a RWC win I would imagine but it is doable. I would imagine Erasmus will blood guys for the Autumn and a lot more next year.
I think the Ireland series is one for the public and they will hope to celebrate their RWC success on home soil with a series win over a rival. I don’t think playing an experimental team against Ireland and losing would be palatable.
If SA do well in the next year then they will galvanize the gains from the RWC victory.

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