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Springboks defend style of play - and the appointment of a South African as TMO

South African coach has also justified their decision to pick seven players who tested positive for Covid in the last month.

Erasmus has been a controversy waterboy.
Erasmus has been a controversy waterboy.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

HE HAS BECOME the most famous water carrier since Eric Cantona bestowed that nickname on Didier Deschamps. Rassie Erasmus, however, is going to continue in the role according to the Springbok assistant coach, Mzwandile Stick.

After a build-up that has been tense and spiky, with Erasmus exchanging barbs with Warren Gatland, Stick did his best to act as a diplomat today as questions at the eve of match press conference ranged from Erasmus’ role as the most overqualified waterboy in history to the Springboks’ ‘boring’ style of play.

Frequently he said he didn’t intend to go too deep into his answers. Yet he certainly shirk any questions or make any apologies for South African tactics.

On the Erasmus issue, Stick said: “Rassie will be bringing water onto the field as he is entitled to do. Jacques (Nienaber) is head coach.  So Rassie can bring the water on and we in Springboks Rugby are happy with that arrangement.”

They may be somewhat less chuffed with allegations that they are hard to watch. Yet Stick didn’t seem to mind, pointing out how they are also hard to play against. “In ten years, in twenty years time, no one will remember the scoreline from the 2019 World Cup final. They will, however, remember that the Springboks won it.

rg-snyman-celebrates-with-rassie-erasmus-after-the-game South Africa celebrate their World Cup win. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“That is all that matters. People may (be critical) of our style of play but this is how we were raised; the physical side of the game is in our DNA. When the opportunity comes to play flowing, running rugby, we won’t be shy but if our style wins the World Cup, if our style wins this Test series then we would say to the players, ‘keep doing what you are doing’.

“We are very proud to be South Africans and proud of the way we play this game.”

Most recently they played it particularly well under the guise of the South African A side, which to all intents and purposes, was a full-blown Springbok XV, and one that defeated the Lions just nine days ago.

In response, Gatland claimed the Lions had dented the Springboks’ ego as they had been defeated at the set-piece. Stick fired back this afternoon: “From my perspective, let’s look at the most important stat from that game which was the final score. We won. So I am not so sure what mind game is going on because I am not a mind game person.

“If he is talking about egos he does not really know much about us as South Africans. Let’s wait and see tomorrow after the game.”

On the subject of the TMO being a South African, Stick pointed out that they had no influence over the appointment of officials, assuring Gatland that the person in question, Marius Jonker, a 53-year-old former policeman, was ‘a professional who respects his job’. “If they have a problem with that, they can go and have a chat with World Rugby.”

The Lions certainly do have a problem with it. Originally, the TMO for the entire series was meant to be Brendon Pickerill, from New Zealand. He could not travel because of the Covid situation. Jonker was his replacement, having officiated in the South African A game against the Lions when he ruled, along with referee, Jaco Peyper, that an ill-timed Faf de Klerk tackle merited a yellow rather than a red card.

rassie-erasmus Faf de Klerk escaped a red card. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Nic Berry, the Australian, referees tomorrow’s game; New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe and France’s Mathieu Raynal take charge of the second and third Tests. Gatland wants a different TMO for those subsequent Test games.

The questions kept coming. Asked if the Lions had an unfair advantage because all the matches had been moved to the Western Cape, away from altitude, Stick pointed to the realities of living in the current pandemic, suggesting neither side will have an advantage. “Just the team with the better gameplan.”

He also insisted his players would be fit enough in spite of the fact they have had just one official Test since the 2019 World Cup. They picked seven players who tested positive recently for Covid and have included 17 players in their squad who featured in the World Cup final. “People are wondering if we are prepared; we had these players for three years leading into the last World Cup,” Stick said. “We have the exact same backline that started that final starting this game. If you say we are undercooked, then look at our squad. We will be ready.”

Meanwhile, South Africa captain Siya Kolisi insisted the Springboks will not be delivering any verbals to Duhan Van Der Merwe, the South African born wing who has been selected to start for the Lions: “Well you clearly haven’t had anything from our side.

“We’ve never been that kind of team and will never be that kind of team.

“We’re going about our business, focussing on the game and we’d never focus on one player.

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“That definitely doesn’t come from our side so I don’t know anything about that.

“We haven’t come out and said this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to be chirping.

“No, we don’t do that. We’ll save our energy for the work that we need to do.”

Kolisi won his race against time to skipper the Boks after his Covid-19 isolation, and the World Cup-winning captain insisted he is fully ready for action.

“I feel good, I feel good,” said Kolisi.

“I do feel good, but I also know if it gets to a place where I’m tired and I can’t go any more, my coaches know me, and the signs when I am tired, so they will take me off the field.

“If it’s the first half or the second half it doesn’t matter, that’s just the code we live by.

“So I have full confidence to go as hard as I can and not hold anything back.

“For me honestly I didn’t have a lot of symptoms, I think I was fine by the second day.

“So it was all in the mental thing, isolating in the room. But I was still part of all the meetings, viewing videos and I was giving input.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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