Rassie Erasmus says Siya Kolisi and the Springbok leadership group made a statement in the big comeback win against England on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports from Johannesburg.
The Boks beat England 42-39 on Saturday after trailing 24-3 inside the first quarter. That incredible performance either side of half-time ensured that the hosts drew first blood in the three-game series.
The comeback was unexpected given the dearth of experienced players in the Bok side. Three debutants in Aphiwe Dyantyi, S’bu Nkosi and RG Snyman were included in the starting XV. The run-on team didn’t include a single established Test combination.
Erasmus said that he feared the worst after witnessing that horrific opening quarter. The new Bok coach started to consider how the public and media might react if his Bok team conceded 50 points in their first Test at the spiritual home of South African rugby.
‘I was worried. There were a lot of young guys in our side, and a lot of experienced players in the England lineup. At 24-3 down, it could have gone really badly for us,’ he said.
Erasmus admitted that the players – more specifically leaders such as new skipper Kolisi and senior statesman Duane Vermeulen – were responsible for initiating the turnaround. By half-time, the Boks led 27-26.
‘Well done to Siya and Duane and just about everyone else who plays a senior role in the team. It could have gone badly for us in the first half. If we had taken 40 or 50 and lost the game, we would have been sitting here with long faces.
‘We thought that with Ben Youngs and three flyhalves in their starting lineup that they were going to kick all day. Tactically, I got it wrong and that surprised the team.
‘Credit to guys like Siya, who realised that and made the change in tactics. We started getting width on our defence and started attacking a lot more.
‘I’m really proud. There were a lot of mistakes, but character is something you can build on.’
Kolisi looked more than a little relieved after his first Test as Bok skipper.
‘I was very nervous going into this game,’ he said. ‘Luckily I had guys like Duane next to me, a guy who had been in those situations before. We took charge and got the guys to calm down.
‘We decided to take control of the game and play at our own pace. It really came together in that period [before half-time]. All the stuff we had worked on, it started coming through.’
After the game, England coach Eddie Jones said that the Boks have used up their ‘get of jail free’ card and won’t be so lucky in the next two Tests in Bloemfontein and Cape Town.
Erasmus agreed, and said that the defence will require sharpening before the next game at Free State Stadium.
‘We probably did [use up that card]. They could have put us away. That said, if not for that late lapse by us, we could have put them away by a bigger margin. Both teams were sloppy at stages.
‘Most of the teams defend high on the outside,’ Erasmus said when highlighting the defensive errors of the team in first 20 minutes.
‘This team has been training for two weeks in that system. Unfortunately, we didn’t go up with enough width. That can happen when you have two debutants on the wing and an outside centre [Lukhanyo Am] playing his second Test. We got that right from minutes 20 to 60, though.
‘I felt that our attack was good for a team that is renowned for kicking the ball back. I’m glad we attacked a lot better than we did against Wales. There’s still a lot to work on. We can improve the attack, but we mustn’t forget about the defence like we did today.’
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