The specter of absent Erasmus sets the mood at Twickenham

The specter of absent Erasmus sets the mood at Twickenham

Erasmus has been a fixture in Springbok training this week but was unable to help prepare for the day
Venue: Twickenham Stadium Date: Saturday November 26 To start up: 5:30 p.m. GMT
Cover: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app, updates on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds

“I don’t know what to say to another team before a World Cup final.”

With these words, Rassie Erasmus first appeared on Twitter in February 2020.

His first postexternal link was accompanied by footage of the pre-game pep talk he gave in the depths of International Stadium Yokohama three months prior.

Duly inspired, the Springboks, after pedestrian victories over Japan and Wales in earlier rounds, swept through England to win the Rugby World Cup final 32-12.

As the teams prepare to meet again on Saturday, three years and some 190 positions later, Erasmus is still setting the tone.

The South African director of rugby and chief content creator will not be at Twickenham. Instead, it serves the second week a fortnight ban of Springbok’s matchday setup.

His suspension was imposed for his less uplifting, but now more regular, output on social media – a series of tweets highlighting arbitration calls against his team.

They were, according to Erasmus, intended to open up discussion and better understand the game.

Extensive channels of communication already exist for dialogue with referees. As Erasmus well knows.

For example: last July, after South Africa lost their first of three Tests to the British and Irish Lions in Cape Town, Australian referee Nic Berry received a video detailing a series of decisions including Springbok was not satisfied. Within half an hour, Berry emailed Erasmus.

“I received your clips, thank you,” Berry wrote, offering to meet Erasmus to review his own performance. Berry also replied with reflections on each of the 36 appeals in question.external link

The video was leaked online shortly after, sowing rancor across the British and Irish Lions tour. An independent disciplinary committee rejected Erasmus’ claim that it was not responsible for its public dissemination.

Thus, it seems that Erasmus’ public broadcast this fall must have in mind a particular and private audience, the same one that followed his speech in Yokohama: the Springboks themselves.

And it seems to work.

The best cats in test rugby behave like underdogs. Any swagger they might have picked up for their World Cup win was driven out of town by a new siege mentality. That rumble? It’s a thirst for return to prove the world wrong.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber appeared before the media earlier this week. He said the full truth about the Erasmus ban was not yet public. He claimed there was a false narrative about his team.

Mind games? Well, maybe that’s just the motivation South Africa needs.

The Springboks are not the team they were in 2019. And neither are England.

Smarter and more skillful operators will no longer be intimidated by games. Muscles and intelligence must be deployed in equal measure.

South Africa and England are respectively fourth and fifth in the world rankings. So far, neither has surpassed the 50% win rate for the fall.

Both are looking for solutions and additions to their game in time for France 2023.

Nienaber bristled at the stereotype of his side, which scored 20 tries in six Rugby League games earlier this year, as collision connoisseurs and nothing else.

He is right.

With Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie, they have an electric beat to rival stalwarts Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi.

Evan Rose
Evan Roos made his Springbok debut against Wales earlier this year

Evan Roos, winning his third cap at Twickenham, is a surprisingly fast number eight. Damian Williamse, who starts at 10, has a scintillating running game that was never part of flyhalf Handre Pollard’s arsenal in 2019.

England’s Eddie Jones, himself more than happy to take center stage in the build-up to a big game, played an unusually minor role in the days leading up to it.

He joked that Erasmus could imitate soccer coach Jose Mourinhoexternal link stepping out of a Twickenham laundry basket to rally his team. He said his England wanted to “illuminate” Twickenham with the spirit that inspired their comeback against the All Blacks.

But he hasn’t made the hay that one might expect from the controversy surrounding the Boks.

Instead, Jones focused on adding to the toolbox of a team whose first instinct was to reach for the hammer.

He brought back Tommy Freeman, who alongside Freddie Steward and Jonny May makes a fast back three, who is equally at home under the high ball.

Tommy Freeman
Tommy Freeman is one of four changes to England’s starting line-up which drew with New Zealand

Saracens duo Mako Vunipola and Jamie George bring all-court ability to the starting front row, with Ellis Genge and Luke Cowan-Dickie on the bench, ready to counter the Springboks’ famous ‘bomb squad’ substitutes.

This meeting, which, by the way, at the same time of the last World Cup cycle, prompted Erasmus to organize a training session teaching his team to hit as high as Owen Farrellexternal linkwill be a balancing act.

How much do you prioritize winning and the confidence it brings? How much of a focus are you on developing new shapes and styles from the training ground?

Ideally, you do both. The danger is that you fail neither, fall between two stools, and end the fall on a deflating butt note.

In this case, for both teams, the debriefing would be brutal. With or without the Erasmus tweets.

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