Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus intends to balance the need to blood new players with the drive to win in Cape Town and whitewash England 3-0, reports JON CARDINELLI in Bloemfontein.
Erasmus looked more than a little relieved when he arrived for the post-match press conference at Free State Stadium on Saturday night. The Boks trailed 12-0 after conceding two early tries, but managed to fight back and win the second Test 23-12.
The result sees the Boks taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. The Erasmus-era has begun in successful fashion with the Boks scoring a significant series win over Eddie Jones’ England.
Erasmus agreed that the results in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein were massively important. It’s been a tough period for the Boks, with the side winning only 11 of their 25 Tests in 2016 and 2017, and dropping down to seventh in the World Rugby rankings.
On the back of the recent triumph, however, there will be cause for optimism. According to Erasmus, this team will only improve in the buildup to the 2019 World Cup.
‘I guess it was something that we were only behind by 12 points in this game instead of by 24 points as was the case in the first Test,’ the Bok coach joked.
‘The guys showed composure and got back into the game a lot sooner than last week. There were a lot of mistakes, but the guys showed a lot of character to pull through.
‘It was a big day, being Beast Mtawarira’s 100th Test and [captain] Siya Kolisi’s birthday. Sometimes it can be terrible with teams losing on a player’s 100th at provincial and Test levels. But Siya and Beast really stood up and the team pulled through.
‘We came into the series at seventh in the world. It’s good to beat teams like England and climb those rankings,’ Erasmus added. ‘It’s good to give people a concrete reason to get behind you.’
Erasmus made it clear from the outset that he intended to use the four Tests in June – a one-off against Wales and the subsequent three games against England – to build some depth. At the same time, he has set out to build a winning culture.
‘We want to win the series 3-0. There will be opportunities for different guys next week. We want them to be exposed to that kind of pressure.
‘It’s not a case of treating that game as a lesser Test. We know it’s going to be a massive clash and we will have to do well to overcome England.
‘We don’t want to make silly decisions, but we have to take chances if we are going to build depth ahead of the World Cup. It’s just a matter of using what time we have before the World Cup to really test some of the younger guys.’
Erasmus said that the changes made to the team culture have started to pay dividends.
‘I think the move to treat players like adults off the field has had a positive influence on it. We don’t have a lot of rules in the team environment, we really do empower players to make the right decisions,’ he said.
‘We encourage the use of common sense. If you think that we’ve conceded 12 penalties in two matches, that is another sign of our good discipline off the field being translated into good discipline on it. The senior players deserve a lot of credit in this regard for the culture that has been created.’
Erasmus said that diversity is one of the team’s strengths. The squad is full of different characters, such as the effervescent Faf de Klerk.
‘You’ve got to allow characters to be characters,’ he said. ‘You can’t have players all conforming to one personality type. That’s not going to work.
‘Faf has done some good things and he has made some mistakes but I’ve been really impressed by the way he has summed up the opposition tactics very quickly.’
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