Rassie Erasmus has explained how he almost resigned from his position as SA Rugby’s director of rugby before the 2021 Lions tour, in a wide-ranging interview looking back on the series.
Erasmus was speaking exclusively to the Daily Mail, in an interview that looks back on last year’s dramatic Lions tour of South Africa.
Having not played at all during 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Springboks went into the Lions series short of game time. To ensure the Boks were ready for the series, two warm-up Tests against Georgia – one of the few nations who were available to play – were arranged and it was also agreed that a South Africa A team would play a midweek game against the Lions.
However, the Boks would only end up playing the first Test against Georgia as the second Test was called off due to players and coaches in both camps testing positive for coronavirus.
The outbreak put the midweek game between the SA A team and the Lions, as well as the whole series, under threat of being called off.
As it happened, the series was moved away from Gauteng and all three Test matches were held at Cape Town Stadium. The Boks made up for the lost Georgia Test by fielding an almost first-choice lineup in the SA A game.
During the interview, Erasmus revealed that he gambled with his job to make sure that the series went ahead.
“We had three games before the Lions Test series: two against Georgia and one midweek game between South Africa A and the Lions. We played Georgia at the end of the week and then we got 24 positive cases, so the next Georgia game was cancelled for good reason. Their coach almost died.
“Our plan was to play our Test team in the second game against Georgia and then play our toughest A team against the Lions to rough them up a bit. Soften them up. But according to the medical committee back in England, we weren’t even allowed outside of our hotel rooms to train.
“They wanted to cancel our midweek game and they didn’t want us to fly to Cape Town until two days before the first Test. I said, ‘No chance.’ We couldn’t go and play the Lions after one game of preparation in 18 months. It would be a farce.
“I said to the Lions board, ‘I have spoken to my players and if this midweek game is off then the series is off.’ It was a bluff. We couldn’t afford to call off the tour. If they had cancelled the tour I was ready to say I lied about having the backing of my players and I would have resigned.”
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