Tue, 28 Sep 2021

  • Under high pressure already, the Boks can ill afford in the second Test to stray into the very type of transgressions the "Rassie video" sought to critique.
  • A dangerous vagary in the aftermath of Erasmus's unorthodox step is the disposition of the rejigged panel of match officials as a result of the hoo-ha.
  • Their director of rugby putting his head on a block in their defence may well serve as an influential motivator for the world champions.

The right noise ... or too much noise? The sound of the final whistle on the second Test at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night will be the most powerful barometer of all in gauging the impact on the Springbok team of Rassie Erasmus's fiercely-debated lead-up video initiative.

You can be fairly sure of one thing: whatever the merits (large lobby of SA subscribers) or demerits (big camp too, albeit predominantly from abroad) of his startlingly detailed dissection of officialdom from the first clash, there is every chance it will be hailed as a geeing-up, possibly justice-balancing masterstroke from South Africa's director of rugby if the Boks level the series ... but a distractive, petty, low-decorum blooper of note if the British and Irish Lions instead seize an unassailable 2-0 lead.

At least in the way it will be painted in the media, there is unlikely to be a marked middle ground on this matter during the wash-up of this middle Test match.

Erasmus's presentation, remember, very quickly grabbed central position in the lead-up hype, suddenly rendering the strategic nuances, selection tweaks and player match-ups mere stagehands in a now thicker-plot, raised-stakes broader theatre.

Those who have intimately known or followed from the fringes Erasmus's single-minded, sometimes off-centre, almost fanatically conscientious style of coaching and planning for years will be acutely aware that he would have thought long and hard before making the radical, feather-ruffling-in-high-places move he did.

Put it is this way: if it was rash, overly peeved or impulsive, he did a mightily good job of disguising it through the calm, considered and largely temperate way he made his case.

Apoplexy? No, that was almost eerily, highly consciously absent from Erasmus as he unveiled his point-by-point study. For those partial to it, it would have seemed like refreshing democracy in action.

He was at special pains to invite an equivalent critique from the Lions camp, and my own view was that in doing so he shrewdly served up a quandary; he invited a return smash that might have been harder to execute.

There were many reasons the Boks lost (and quite feasibly still an apt outcome, when all is said and done) that first Test, but tardy adherence to the game's laws was notably not a significant impediment to them, I felt.

Could the Lions have assembled a counter-study as laden with instances where they felt wronged, or as stymied by borderline calls against them as the Springboks were?

A personal sense, unless I naively or parochially overlooked a string of glaring instances, is not.

At the same time, however, Erasmus effectively painting a squeaky-clean picture of his apparently aggrieved charges does make things a little more difficult for the Boks for the red-letter second Test.

It is going to be a steep ask already to muster the kind of controlled energy and aggression that will be required to level things up against these tough-nut tourists.

But against that backdrop, the Lions themselves and the visiting UK/Irish press pack in tow will be seeking, with a very special zeal, instances of the World Cup holders succumbing to hypocrisy, if you like, by pushing/exceeding the boundaries of legality in a desperate, must-win date for them.

In short, the Boks have portrayed themselves, through Erasmus's crusade, as the "sinned against" outfit at this juncture in the series; there will be an extra onus on them to remain saints, if you like, even in the boiling cauldron of their do-or-die date.

Erasmus's very public toothcombing of the key handful of first-Test officials carried another element of risk: its mental impact on the shuffled panel in charge of the second (including a new referee in New Zealander Ben O'Keeffe) remains to be seen.

It's a tantalisingly up-for-grabs situation. The officials will be more aware than ever - whether on-field or in the often equally important TMO booth - that a variety of "big brothers" will be watching them with near-unprecedented relish, especially through the mega-angled forms of filming technology available.

It could be unnerving ... and nervousness only aggravates the threat of error in judgement, execution.

How will the relevant, carry-over officials to the second Test be feeling, in addition, about Erasmus's novel midweek actions?

Sympathetic? Chastened? Or indignant? Even angry? Almost vengeful?

It is impossible to know at this point.

All that said, the likelihood that Erasmus went "rogue", and undertook his campaign without the knowledge or at least substantial backing from within his own camp, is slim.

As a 36-cap former international himself, he will also be acutely aware that the Springboks have a time-honoured knack (with exceptions, like "Justice4Bakkies" in 2009) of producing their best and most passionate rugby when their backs are to the wall or they have a sense, whether rightly or wrongly, that the world is against them.

It is difficult to believe that there won't be abundant souls among this week's match-day 23 fuelled by a powerful belief that one of their premier duo of masterminds stood up for them - went onto a chopping block on their behalf, even while aware of some associated perils and derision he'd face - in the build-up to this biggie.

My gut feeling, although it is in a volatile landscape, is a tangible, blanket "positive response" from the Springbok players.

I am in two minds, for what it is worth, about both the timing (two-thirds of the Test series still to play) and wisdom of Erasmus's video move.

But if it is enough to embolden the Boks to get over the line in the second Test, then Erasmus will have an instant reason to feel vindicated.

And yes, that's the scenario my two cents are on.

Teams:

South Africa

15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse

British and Irish Lions:

15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland), 14 Anthony Watson (England), 13 Chris Harris (Scotland), 12 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), 11 Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), 10 Dan Biggar (Wales), 9 Conor Murray (Ireland) 8 Jack Conan (Ireland), 7 Tom Curry (England), 6 Courtney Lawes (England), 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain, Wales), 4 Maro Itoje (England), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), 1 Mako Vunipola (England)

Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens (Wales), 17 Rory Sutherland (Scotland) 18 Kyle Sinckler (England), 19 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), 20 Taulupe Faletau (Wales), 21 Ali Price (Scotland), 22 Owen Farrell (England), 23 Elliot Daly (England)

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

Source: News24

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