Boks have muscle memory to rely on

Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber are experts at finding solutions to tricky problems, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA.

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Thanks to their vain chase for that mythical full 80-minute performance – and spending half their lives trying to coax players ever closer to the ceiling of their potential – coaches can understandably be a ‘glass is half-empty’ lot.

But few people debunk that more than the Springbok duo of Erasmus and Nienaber. Having started out as mates and ended up as SA Rugby director of rugby and Springbok head coach respectively, the two can practically spin anything into a positive.

Of course, we should have realised that when they took over a Springbok team ranked seventh in 2018 and promptly declared they had a chance of winning the World Cup (which they did), but their recent fronting up to the United Kingdom media ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour put it beyond doubt.

By the time they played Georgia in the first of two warm-up games before the Test series against the Lions, the world champions had famously not played a single minute of Test rugby in 20 months.

Yet when asked if that would contribute to rust, at best, or a lack of cohesion, at worst, Erasmus said the way he saw it, his team is on par with the visiting Lions.

This was on account of his side – which is missing three retirees and could be without injured locks RG Snyman and Lood de Jager and fullback Warrick Gelant – having played together for two years before their Covid-enforced hiatus.

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Erasmus’ logic is that getting four nations to fly in formation in a little over a month, as the Lions need to, puts the Boks on parity as they have muscle memory to rely on.

Domestic rugby, which has seen our provincial sides trapped in their own ‘Groundhog Day’ of Currie Cup fixtures disguised as Super Rugby Unlocked, the Currie Cup, the Preparation Cup and the SA branch of the Rainbow Cup because they can’t leave the country, has taken a beating throughout for its quality, or lack thereof.

But try telling that to the positivity twins, who upgraded it to ‘weekly trials’.

Even the talent drain to the United Kingdom, France and Japan was rebranded into the Bok bosses being ‘lucky’ that the weakness of the rand meant their players ended up with the opportunity to play at a high level and – in the case of those based in the UK – against British and Irish Lions opposition on a weekly basis.

And even the prospect of playing the most iconic tour in front of no fans in the cavernous FNB Stadium almost sounded appealing, when juxtaposed with the fact that the tour came perilously close to not happening and the Lions coming to South Africa 24 years between visits.

Of course, a lot of that was the kind of charm offensive a boxing promoter puts on to sell a big bout, particularly for the unimpressionable English media; some of it was to send a subliminal message to his players ahead of their get-together that there is no crisis, no matter how it has been reported.

But the scary part of it is they actually believe it because the way their minds work is aimed almost exclusively at finding solutions for problems; not problems for every solution.

I probably should admit that in terms of SA media I’m firmly in the 2-1 final series score (and I’m not sure I’ve even decided in whose favour) because I’m the kind of pessimist that dares the universe to shock me.

Listening to Erasmus and Nienaber went some way towards making the series watchable from in front of the sofa.