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Rugby | Springboks

Rassie Erasmus and Siya Kolisi, © Gallo Images

Who will win the coaching duel?



One of the most intriguing face-offs in the test series between South Africa and England that got off to such an entertaining and absorbing start in Johannesburg on Saturday is the clash between the respective coaches.

England’s Eddie Jones and the Springboks’ Rassie Erasmus are both known in the business as shrewd and clever tacticians, and the opening test match at the weekend saw both of them take opportunities to shine and perhaps get a small edge on the other, while both of them will also look back and think maybe they made some mistakes.

Jones got the early blow in with a stunning double bluff that Erasmus readily agreed contributed to his own team finding themselves trailing 24-3 near the end of the first quarter.

“The way they selected their team, with two flyhalves, made me sure they were going to kick the ball back at us. When they ran it we were caught out, and I got it wrong,” said Erasmus.

ADMITTING CULPIBALITY

In admitting his culpability, Erasmus was doing something his immediate predecessor never did. In fact it is hard to recall a Bok coach who has ever felt he was wrong about something, at least not while he was still in the job. It certainly made a pleasing change to the “we never scored tries but we created eight or nine opportunities and that means we are on the right track and can be positive” refrain of the past few years.

After Erasmus uttered those words there were some in the media area who wondered if his predecessor would have been able to so quickly spot the mistake that had been made and been able to rectify it. Erasmus was able to do that, and it was the Bok adjustment to their game that enabled them to come back and win it.

That was a strike back for Erasmus in the game of chess that has been started with his opposite number, and Jones may have tacitly admitted that he got it wrong after his team had opened up their big lead.

“Perhaps we got seduced a bit by the game,” said the former Wallaby mentor.

Indeed, did the double bluff not come back and bite England. In the sense that they would have been better off reverting to Plan A once they had stunned the Boks into a 21 point deficit. We don’t know what profit they might have gained from kicking onto the new Bok wings and probing the potential vulnerabilities of Willie le Roux, who wasn’t great in some games towards the end of the Premiership season, because they never really employed that tactic.

But when we did see glimpses of it when they kicked long on occasion in the last quarter of the game there were hints of potential. One kick went so long that it went over the dead ball line, but the Boks, who thrived with their direct approach in the middle parts of the game, might not be as comfortable when the ball is behind them and the back three players have to turn to retrieve.

WAITING TO SEE JONES' TEAM

We will have to wait and see what team Jones comes up this week for Bloemfontein, but it is going to be interesting to see what the Boks anticipate from their opponents this week. If England go in with the same combinations they can execute what they didn’t try in Johannesburg, but Erasmus should be more alert to the possibility of the double bluff.

At the same time, Jones will be warning his players against the seductive powers of a big lead and how sometimes it can either make you just stop playing or by contrast make you feel that you can just run the ball in from anywhere. England may have been guilty of a bit of both at Emirates Airlines Park.

One thing we should be almost certain of however is that under Erasmus, the Boks should be a lot better, particularly defensively, at the start of the Bloemfontein test than they were in Johannesburg.

After viewing the video of the game over and over again, both sets of coaches are sure to have an extra trick or two up their sleeves too. The game of chess has begun…



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