Rassie Erasmus has not shied away from acknowledging that the expectation should be for the Springboks to claim a series win over England, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Johannesburg.
The Erasmus era began with a disappointing 22-20 defeat to Wales in Washington last Saturday, but a number of frontline players remained in South Africa to continue preparing for the three-Test series against England that gets under way this weekend.
When addressing the media in Johannesburg on Monday, Erasmus said that the Boks were bitterly disappointed by last Saturday’s loss, but he also highlighted the complicated travel and squad balancing act as factors that were always going to play a role in the performance.
‘We had to make a decision for the Wales Test about biting the bullet and deciding when we would travel, whether it would be on the Sunday before the Test, or midweek with the benefit of then being able to train with the whole group on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We opted to travel on the Wednesday, but you could see in the first half we were a bit flat, even though we tried everything in our power to be prepared.
‘There is no doubt that we saw that the potential [of the squad in Wales], but we were perhaps lacking the experience, and the combinations were a bit disrupted. Most of the guys who stayed behind [in South Africa] have a bit more experience, and we will need that more against England.
‘We tried to put ourselves in the best position to win these first two games, although the second Test match [against England] is where we can probably pick a combination out of these two teams that played to ensure we have the strongest possible side. We’ve had to split our resources, but the expectation should still be to beat England in the Test series.’
Although the Boks did come in for plenty of criticism over both the execution and implementation of a heavy kicking game against Wales last Saturday, Erasmus moved to insist that this was not the blueprint one should constantly come to expect from the Boks this season.
‘If we’re going to play like that the whole year, it will be very frustrating, and a lot of the kicking against Wales was due to the weather, with the wet and humid conditions forcing our hand a bit… Everything we kicked, they kicked back, and it eventually seemed like it was just going to be about who would make the first mistake.
‘However, I was impressed by the way we handled the high ball – particularly Makazole [Mapimpi] who caught everything that came his way – but now that we’re catching the high ball, it’s about what we do with it.’
With Erasmus having needed to split the resources of an extended squad, 15 players remained in Johannesburg last week, all of whom can be expected to feature this Saturday.
Meanwhile, England have opted to base themselves in Durban and train at sea level, despite the fact that the first two Tests will be played on the highveld in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.
‘I am a bit surprised that they’ve opted not to be here all week and are rather in Durban,’ Erasmus admitted. ‘It will be interesting, maybe they’ve got their plans on how to handle altitude, but sometimes it catches up to you if you don’t stay at altitude.’
Both the Boks and England will name their teams on Thursday, with the visitors set to travel up to Johannesburg on the eve of the first Test, before returning to Durban next week.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) June 4, 2018
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images