Elton Jantjies says coach Rassie Erasmus’ ability to think outside the box has been crucial to the Springboks’ progress during the series against England. JON CARDINELLI reports from Cape Town.
The Boks beat England 23-12 in Bloemfontein last Saturday to clinch the three-Test series with a game to spare. The hosts out-muscled their more fancied England counterparts at Ellis Park and Free State Stadium, while Erasmus got one over his opposite number, Eddie Jones, as far as tactics and player management were concerned.
Over the course of the series, Erasmus has spoken at length about the team’s drive to win and develop. Erasmus has blooded 16 new players over the past three Tests – a run that includes a one-off against Wales in Washington DC and two matches against England.
The Bok coach may look to make further changes ahead of the third Test against England, with several new combinations and players set for an opportunity. André Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel played as centres when the team trained at Cape Town Stadium on Monday afternoon. Jantjies alternated with Handré Pollard at flyhalf, and may well find himself starting at No 10 when the Boks face England this Saturday.
On Tuesday, Jantjies told a media gathering at the team hotel that the Boks have made significant strides on attack over the past few weeks. The Lions flyhalf feels that Erasmus’ approach has prompted the players to look at the game in a very different way.
‘Rassie is someone special,’ Jantjies said. ‘Some of the things he picks up on the field… I don’t think other coaches are even looking for those things. He’s a very different coach.’
Jantjies did not want to elaborate on those details for fear of giving too much away. Generally speaking, however, he feels that there has been a notable improvement on attack.
‘We’re starting to find a balance between running, kicking and passing,’ he said. ‘There is certainly a good, happy vibe in the camp at present.
‘If the coach has a certain mindset, it is going to affect the other coaches and then filter down to the players. Rassie has been great in that respect. I think that all the spectators can see what is happening with this group, both on and off the field.’
Erasmus has worked closely with assistants Swys de Bruin and Mzwandile Stick on all aspects of attack over the past few weeks. On Tuesday, Stick spoke about his new role with the Boks and the progress that has been made by the team in a short space of time.
‘My main focus is on the work off the ball,’ the assistant coach said. ‘Rugby is a numbers game and it’s about creating situations where you have more numbers than the opposition. Decision-making is crucial in that regard, in terms of knowing how to move into space via the kick or the pass.
‘Everybody has caught up to South Africa in terms of physicality,’ Stick continued. ‘You need more than brute strength to succeed. We have seen a few results this June, if you think about how we dominated the kicking game last week, and how our skills have improved. The players have bought into the changes we have made.’
In 2016, the Boks endured their worst season in the professional era, winning just 33% of their Tests. Stick, then the backline coach, was one of the assistants who didn’t survive to 2017.
Erasmus, however, is adamant that Stick still has something to offer the Boks, and has brought the former Blitzboks star back into the mix for a specific purpose.
‘I’m in a better space this year,’ Stick said. ‘I went back to work with the South Africa U20s last year, which is what I enjoy, working with the youngsters. I showed that when I was previously with the Kings, working with their academy and junior players. But life is all about opportunities, and I’m relishing the one that I have at the moment.
‘It’s great that Rassie trusts in me. I am not going to take this opportunity for granted. Any chance to represent my country is one I cherish. I’ve done it as a player at sevens and U20 levels, and I know I’ve got what it takes to be one of the best coaches in the world. I’m grateful to have a head coach who believes in me and I think he is someone who can bring out the best in me.
‘Rassie has been honest since the beginning,’ Stick said when asked about the spirit of positivity in the camp. There’s been no games, no hide and seek.
‘When he brought the group together, he was clear that the focus was to get back to winning and to transform the side. He has given a lot of players opportunities over the past three weeks, and I think that there may be a few more new guys getting a chance this week.’
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) June 19, 2018
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images