Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer
Rassie Erasmus warns the Lions: Write the Springboks off at your peril - Ramsey Cardy /Sportsfile

Rassie Erasmus warns the Lions: Write the Springboks off at your peril – Ramsey Cardy /Sportsfile

South Africa director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, has warned against writing-off Springbok chances for the series against the British and Irish Lions on the basis that they have not played since beating England in the World Cup final in Japan in November 2019. Erasmus defied the odds in getting the ‘Boks in shape to win their third World Cup when taking over an under-performing team only 18 months before the tournament.

Even though he admits that the build-up to the Lions tour is ‘not ideal,’ he is also at pains to stress that he has great faith in a squad that is expected to feature 30 players from that World Cup venture. There is little prospect of the Springboks being undercooked.

“The preparation is not ideal but it’s not the end of the world,” said Erasmus, who names a 45-man squad on June 5 to prepare for the Lions series as well as the midweek South Africa A fixture against the tourists in Cape Town in mid-July.

“It’s a valid question (about lack of preparation) and we have discussed it a lot. From the 33 man squad at the World Cup, who were together for 22 weeks prior to the tournament, only three have retired so 30 are available. And those guys are familiar with each other. The British and Irish Lions haven’t played together (at all) since their last test match together. And we are all from the one country, we are all South Africans, we know each other. The Lions have to put four countries together with four different game plans, styles and cultures and mindsets whereas we have one, that of South Africa.”

There was a time when people in South Africa bemoaned the brawn-drain north to Europe or Japan with studies at one point estimating that the number of potential Springbok players earning their living outside the country to be in the hundreds. Far from seeing that exodus as a disadvantage Erasmus, who was head coach at Munster for two years working alongside his long-time ally, current South Africa head coach, Jaques Nienaber, believes that having exiles such as Toulouse’s Champions Cup winner, wing Cheslin Kolbe, or the raft of players like Sale Sharks’ scrum-half, Faf de Klerk playing abroad, works in the Springboks’ favour. Even the unheralded emergence of players such as Leicester back-rower, Jasper Wiese, ensures that the pool of talent from which to pick is deep.

Rassie Erasmus warns the Lions: Write the Springboks off at your peril - Matthew Childs /ReutersRassie Erasmus warns the Lions: Write the Springboks off at your peril - Matthew Childs /Reuters

Rassie Erasmus warns the Lions: Write the Springboks off at your peril – Matthew Childs /Reuters

“The advantage we do have, for the first time probably as a result of our currency being weak, is our players playing all over the world,” said Erasmus. “The nice thing is that our old dogs, our big dogs, our guys who were mostly involved in the World Cup and who got better offers overseas, are playing consistently and against the British and Irish Lions players.”

Nienaber echoed those sentiments with particular regard to Wiese.

“Jasper had an opportunity to go and play in the Premiership and he has really knocked the door down,” said Nienaber. “He has blossomed there. We have had a good look at him. It is nice when that happens, when you have good communication with a club. It is tough for us to compete with currency, the rand versus the pound. We will never advise a player to go but if a player does want to go and there is an opportunity, it is always nice for us to say: ‘Listen, there is an awesome club like Leicester, we have a good relationship and we think your rugby will thrive there, you will become a better player and it will probably advance your career’. Probably 90% of the clubs abroad are like that.”

South Africa is bracing itself for a possible third wave of coronavirus infections although Erasmus, who has had Covid himself, revealed that family life is normal with his children at school. He is braced for being in a ‘hard bubble,’ for the Lions tour with players unable to be dispatched to play provincial fixtures against the tourists. Erasmus would like to see domestic crowds of up to 25 per cent or even 50 per cent capacity but stresses that the government closed doors policy will not be questioned.

“We are handling the situation better because we are getting used to it,” said Erasmus. “We were facing the prospect of not having the Lions tour at all. We were prepared to play in the UK, in Dubai, with or without crowds. Postponing it would not work. We are really thankful it is going to happen. It is so special. A World Cup is the pinnace but, hell, a Lions tour is bloody close.”