‘It’s two birds with one stone and if South Africa win he will be hailed as a genius.’
The Rassie Erasmus show rolls on. Or should I say the Jaco Johan show? Either way, as far as the midweek build-up to test matches goes, these past few days have been extraordinary – if not totally bizarre.
Springbok director of rugby Erasmus was hugely unimpressed by the refereeing performance of Nic Berry in the first test at Cape Town on Saturday. The Australian failed to send off Lions flanker Hamish Watson for a dangerous tackle in the second half and also missed a number of penalties throughout the game.
In response, Erasmus took the curious approach of pointing out all of Berry’s mistakes on his ‘burner account’ @TheNosyOne987 and since then he has spent the week following up one unusual action with another.
“Respect your attitude in defeat, but there were some questionable calls. I’ll highlight a few” ‘Jaco Johan’ replied to @RassieRugby on Sunday evening.
— Jaco Johan (@thenosyone987) July 25, 2021
While it’s unclear whether Erasmus expected to get away with having a conversation with himself by using two separate accounts, it wasn’t long before fans caught onto what was going on.
The fact ‘Jaco Johan’ only ‘liked’ Munster Rugby content from 2016 and recent South African rugby tweets was quite the hint. Erasmus only joined Twitter officially in 2020.
The 48-year-old responded by reverting to his verified account and changed his ‘Jaco Johan’ bio to “I am Rassie’s voice when he is to [sic] nervous to say something himself! Watch the space some good stuff on its way ! # burner account”
Cheslin is obviously played in the air and clearly not direct into touch!!More importantly for youngsters watching this clip!!!! Please never move or touch an injured player on the ground, its reckless and dangerous! Leave this to the 🏥 🙏🏼@WorldRugby @Springboks @lionsofficial pic.twitter.com/lEcp5L4PBf
— Rassie Erasmus (@RassieRugby) July 26, 2021
Just when Rassie’s perculiar online behaviour seemed to fizzle out, he suddenly returned to our Twitter feeds on Thursday morning with an hour-long Vimeo video addressing World Rugby with a full analysis of the officiating of the first test between the Lions and Springboks.
Erasmus labelled the refereeing as “comical” during his detailed breakdown and it will be interesting to see if the governing body take action in the coming days or weeks.
Does Rassie know exactly what he is doing?
Some people think Erasmus is struggling under the pressure of the Lions series. Some people think he is being totally unprofessional and unsportsmanlike by hitting out at the refereeing. But what if the experienced and intelligent South African is in full control of the situation?
Nobody has been reflecting on the on-field action or piling scrutiny on the Springbok players this week. Instead, Erasmus has taken centre stage and grabbed all media attention himself. More articles about his behaviour means less articles about his team’s failings last Saturday. Less attention on his players means less pressure on them too.
By taking to social media and acting as strangely as any sports coach in memory, Erasmus is actively distracting the South African home press from criticizing his team and planting seeds of doubt into the match officials’ minds in the process.
It’s two birds with one stone and if South Africa win the second test he will be hailed as a genius.
The Springbok players will be hurting after a sobering loss but while their boss puts himself in front of the cameras, they can put their heads down, find full focus and prepare for an epic sequel away from the spotlight.
This Lions series has been 12 years in the waiting for South Africa and the scale of this weekend’s match cannot be underestimated. Should Erasmus and Nienaber plot a brutal physical backlash then they will need some subconscious lee-way from referee Ben O’Keefe and his assistants to help their charge.
Lions Roar into second test against South Africa.
The talking has been done by the Springbok camp but now they need to walk the walk.
Irrespective of the referee’s performance, the Lions looked the stronger team last weekend, with Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes proving particular thorns in their side. The Lions have the firepower and balance up front to deal with the South Africans and Erasmus knows it.
The Springboks are reigning World Cup champions for a reason but they are currently experiencing life without the likes of Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, RG Snyman and Duane Vermuelen who were so instrumental in 2019. As a consequence, they are significantly less impactful two years on and the performance of number eight Kwagga Smith summed up their problems last weekend.
The 28-year-old stands at 5’11 and weighs 95kg which makes him as a whole 22kg lighter than the experienced Vermeulen who would normally occupy the jersey. The difference showed against Warren Gatland’s men too as Smith struggled to impose himself at any stage and struggled badly under the high-ball.
The Boks do still of course have Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert and Pieter Steph du Toit in their arsenal who pack a considerable punch, but as a unit, they failed to get the dominance they would have envisaged against the Lions pack.
Perhaps it all shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering they were in fact pound for pound lighter than the tourists. Unusual territory for any South African team to find themselves in.
Lions and South Africa make changes for the second test
Many pundits questioned Warren Gatland’s selection last week but as ever, the former Wales head coach was proven right on the big stage.
His forwards put in a colossal display and set the platform for a terrific five-point victory as the likes of Jack Conan and Tom Curry produced big performances around the edges to cause serious problems for the home side.
Mako Vunipola starts at loosehead this time around in the only change to the pack, while Conor Murray and Chris Harris come into the backline as more dependable options than Ali Price and Elliot Daly who made mixed contributions on Saturday. Murray will bring more control to proceedings alongside Dan Biggar as his world-class game-management and box-kicking abilities are sure to prove a big factor in the match’s outcome.
The Springboks have also made changes as they go for an all Stormers front row of Stephen Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe. Leicester Tigers man Jasper Wiese will add more bulk from number eight while World Cup-winning prop Vincent Koch and 25-year-old flanker Marco Van Staden come onto the bench. Last week’s starting loosehead Ox Nche misses out through injury.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Jasper Wiese, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (C), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Lood de Jager, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Damian Willemse.
Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Chris Harris, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Conor Murray, Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (Capt.) Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan
Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Taulupe Faletau, Ali Price, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly