Rassie Erasmus stirred things up in Ireland in 2019 when he labelled their World Cup team “softies” but South Africa’s director of rugby says the present team are quite the opposite.
The Springboks face Ireland – presently ranked world No 1 – at Lansdowne Road on Saturday with added spice, as he put it, that they are both in the same pool at next year’s World Cup.
Erasmus, who was head coach at the time before giving way to his assistant Jacques Nienaber after the World Cup, made the ‘softie’ remark as he fired up the Boks ahead of their semi-final with Wales.
For good measure, he also inferred that England ran for cover when the heat was on – the Springboks went on to overwhelm Eddie Jones’ fancied team in the final.
However, he now believes that the Irish under Andy Farrell are considerably tougher than the 2019 team coached by Joe Schmidt.
“I didn’t particularly think that team had a very hard edge, to be honest with you,” said Erasmus, who had a bird’s-eye view of Irish rugby when he and the ever-present Nienaber were in charge of Munster from 2016-17.
“I know people will think it’s covering up, I thought the technicality they used to play with was their major thing that one had to counter.
“It wasn’t maybe robustness and in your face, that kind of play, it was that these guys will outsmart you.
“That’s the way they played but, obviously, I wouldn’t say that about the current team. They are where they are.”
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Erasmus, who turns 50 on the day of the match, was sitting in the stands with Nienaber the last time the two teams faced each other in Dublin in 2017.
Erasmus had been persuaded to leave Munster and become Springbok director of rugby and watched appalled as the Irish inflicted a record 38-3 thrashing of hapless South Africa, who at that point were still under the guidance of Allister Coetzee.
“Maybe they thought when they gave us a 38-3 thrashing we didn’t have a physical edge or that we were soft,” said Erasmus, who replaced Coetzee as coach in February 2018. “Things change quickly.”
The Irish were runners-up to France in the 2022 Six Nations before sealing an historic 2-1 series win in New Zealand in July.
“I think this team has got a physical edge on them,” he said.
“I think this team has got a tactical edge on them. I think this team is confident.
“I think if you take the experience of Johnny [Sexton] and some of the other guys in the team, that it’s well balanced and they’re playing at home.
“I think both of them had tactics. They beat us 38-3, so that’s how good Joe was, and now Andy has them No 1 in the world, so it’s difficult to compare.
“I just think this team has, apart from the technicalities, has got a real good physical edge on them as well.”
Ultra-competitive and hard taskmaster Sexton has said the No 1 ranking means little and that you only earn it if you win the World Cup.
Erasmus was equally sceptical of the rankings system but said Ireland are the form team.
“We don’t always understand how the world rankings work but when you look at the team and you analyse their team, they are red hot,” he said.
“I’m not blowing smoke up their arse, but they are just really competitive in all areas of the game.
“That’s why I think if you look at our team, there is not a lot of unsettled players in this team because we know we are playing Ireland.”
© Agence France-Presse
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