Rassie Erasmus believes that a change in mindset has led to the South African teams playing ‘Test rugby’ during the the initial rounds of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament. JON CARDINELLI reports.
All four of the South African teams have endeavoured to play a smarter tactical game during the early rounds of the 2019 Sanzaar competition. Since 2018, each side has made progress with regard to their defence and kicking game, albeit to varying degrees.
Erasmus and his Bok coaching team should take some credit for the tactical shift. Since he accepted the director of rugby post in late 2017, Erasmus and the likes of Jacques Nienaber and Mzwandile Stick have been visiting the respective franchises and sharing information on training methods and tactics.
Ultimately, the Bok coaching staff and the franchise coaches have been working towards lifting the South African standards in those key departments. A little more than a year down the line, and we’re starting to see some encouraging results.
‘Last year, it seems like there was a big improvement on attack across the board,’ said Erasmus. ‘This year, the local sides have moved towards an approach that resembles Test rugby. There’s been a lot of positive play in terms of the tactical game, and as a national coach that’s what you want to see.
‘Jacques Nienaber has been responsible for our defence and exits at national level,’ explained the Bok coach. ‘He’s visited the franchises to share a lot of ideas. I’ve also visited the different teams. Getting this new contracting model up and running has been my focus recently, but my focus will shift again as Super Rugby progresses. We used a lot of players at the Boks last season, and it’s good to see a lot of what we did there has filtered down into the franchises.’
The Bulls completely dominated the Stormers in round one and the Lions in round three. While part of the Bulls’ success was down to the physicality and accuracy of their pack, the execution of the kicking game deserves special mention. The chief decision-makers in that side, scrumhalf Embrose Papier and Handré Pollard, have been in wonderful touch.
Pollard has already slotted 19 out of 22 goal attempts and leads the tournament with 52 points. This bodes well for the Boks in a World Cup year.
‘Joel Stransky won the 1995 World Cup with a drop goal. I still remember Stephen Larkham’s drop that went through my hands in that 1999 semi-final,’ said the former Bok flanker with a chuckle.
‘History seems to repeat itself at each tournament. Stephen Donald came on to kick a penalty and win the 2011 World Cup for New Zealand.
‘It’s not only about attack at the World Cup. You are not going to win the title by scoring eight tries more than your opposition. There will be times when the momentum of the game swings and you will have to make your chance on goal count. We have to accept that this is a big part of the game, and crucial to winning the tournament.’
Erasmus recently met with a group of Stormers players to discuss the coming Test season and the World Cup itself. The second alignment camp will be staged in Gauteng on Sunday and involve players based further up-country.
‘I’ve been happy with what I’ve seen recently. You can’t speak to the players about these kinds of things later in the season before the first Test. It’s too late at that stage. They have to start getting it right now,’ he said.
‘The Bulls did well in their first and third games. They slipped a bit in that second game against the Jaguares. The Lions were impressive in that first game against the Jaguares and the Stormers got it tactically right in Durban last week. The Sharks were very clinical in their opening games against the Sunwolves and Blues.
‘The teams are trying to squeeze their opponents, as Test teams do, and as a Test coach I’m enjoying what I’m seeing.’
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images