Rassie needs to butt out, says former Lions coach

Former British & Irish Lions coach Clive Woodward has suggested a lack of demarcation between the roles of director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber is ‘killing the Springboks’.

There is no doubt that the Springboks won’t be lacking any motivation ahead of this weekend’s second Test against the Lions, but if they were in need of any further fuel to add to the fire, Woodward’s scathing column for the UK’s Daily Mail would certainly provide just that.

“Erasmus has had his day as coach, he did a brilliant job fashioning a Boks team in a short time good enough to win the 2019 World Cup. But that was his moment, Nienaber is now in charge,’ Woodward wrote.

“They are friends, they worked together at the Free State, the Stormers and Munster but the dynamic has changed. Nienaber must now be in charge of the team, he is the main man, but on this tour you would never know it.

“It is clear that Erasmus has started taking over again, he is running around in a tracksuit and donning the water carrier bib even though – as Gatland observed last week – he never seems to dispense any water, nor even carry a bottle! He never forgets his clipboard, though.

“It looked comical, it was comical, and I am surprised South African Rugby are allowing it to happen. Erasmus is still coaching the team in all but name, but that’s not his job. He needs to butt out.

“His job now is to appoint the coaching team and let them get on with it, offering advice when asked but no more. He has become centre stage again. All the pre-match banter is conducted between him and Gatland – and Warren is eating him for breakfast.”

Woodward, who coached the 2005 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, and lost that Test series 3-0, went on to throw further verbal grenades at the world champion Springboks.

“I’ve never been wholly convinced as to the world-beating qualities of this South Africa team, even though they are the world champions. Their reputation is built pretty much wholly on their dismantling of a complacent and badly distracted England team, who were shambolically poor in the 2019 World Cup final.

“And since then the Boks have hardly played so there has been no opportunity to grow and mature and build on that win. Some of that came home to roost on Saturday night, although we must not downplay how well the Lions have done to even undertake the tour and secondly to pull themselves together at half time after an extremely average first half.

“It was not looking good, the combinations weren’t really working and the Boks hadn’t done much to earn their 12-3 lead. It was all a bit low key and uninspired and let’s, as always, pause to remember how challenging it must be playing in front of empty stands. Both sides appeared to miss crowd engagement badly.

“But somehow Gatland, the extraordinary Alun Wyn Jones and his other big leaders on the field – Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Dan Biggar – immediately got the Lions on the right track when they came out of the tunnel again.”

Read the full column here

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Craig Lewis