On the streets of Cape Town they all hailed Rassie the Rascal. After spending the week firing out rogue tweets, leaking videos on the internet and torching his reputation as a cool and collected character, it was the Springbok director of rugby who had the last laugh.
It’s not the first time Rassie Erasmus has pushed the boundaries in the pursuit of victory. Those who know him best claim he’s a genius — a workaholic who went from driving tanks to winning the World Cup.
He has a reputation as an innovator. During his early days coaching the Cats, he took his team physio and promoted him to defence coach. That physio was Jacques Nienaber, who is now the Springboks head coach. They became a double act and last night they starred in the Saturday night primetime slot.
Rassie Erasmus (second left) will feel his comments on referees helped his side on Saturday
Erasmus filmed an hour-long monologue about the referees after the first Test last weekend
‘They were like Laurel and Hardy when we were at the Cats,’ said hooker Schalk Brits. ‘A perfect couple. They work together extremely well and they sometimes do things a little quirky.
‘When I moved to the Stormers, we played against Rassie’s team. They had left a sheet with all their lineout calls in the changing room. Our coach called us in two hours early the next day to learn these calls. Come the match, guess what? They weren’t even the calls being used!
‘With the Cheetahs, Rassie would sit on the roof of the stadium with different coloured lights for different moves and he used these lights to relay information during the match. He was always ahead of the curve.
‘What has Rassie done this week? All I can say is that he’s always clued up with what he says. He has taken the focus away from his players and put it on himself. It’s pretty much what Eddie Jones does with England.’
Cheslin Kolbe (No 14) was lucky to escape a red for taking out Conor Murray (top) in the air
South Africa’s Siya Kolisi (left) was judged to have prevented a Robbie Henshaw (bottom) try
The pantomime villain stole the show. To an extent, he torched his own reputation to create a media frenzy, before his team arrived under the radar at the Cape Town Stadium to snatch victory. Another success story for the Rassie Roadshow.
At Munster, Erasmus used to call in players at random to sit in on the coaches’ meeting. They would be asked to contribute to tactical review sessions. All in the name of transparency. ‘There’s always a method to what he’s doing,’ said his former Munster assistant Jerry Flannery.
‘He’s not a knee-jerk guy and he certainly wouldn’t lose the plot. He knew the reaction he’d get so it would all be part of a plan. He controlled the narrative, didn’t he?
‘He’s the smartest rugby guy I’ve ever come across. Rassie would take a step back and feel where the energy of the group was at.
Murray was hit hard by Faf de Klerk (9) in the tackle but officials did not spend long viewing it
‘The year they arrived, our head coach Anthony Foley died. The way they handled that showed their ability to connect emotionally with the players.
‘We had a European game that weekend and he said: ‘You guys buried your head coach this week, you’ll never do anything harder than that in your life, this match will feel so easy’. He’s so good at connecting with the emotional side of the group and he seems very human. He talks about his own mistakes and you identify with that.’
Perhaps one day Erasmus will look back on this week as one of his mistakes, despite the victory. Many have accused him of bringing the game into disrepute, but here in South Africa his allies have remained firm.
‘The big debate is whether Rassie was right or wrong,’ said his former team-mate and colleague Brendan Venter.
‘If you know Rassie the person, he’s incredibly committed to the cause. We were at university together and he always worked incredibly hard. He was obsessed. It meant more to him than it means to me. He works through the night.
Lukhanyo Am scored a disputed try, with Nigel Owens saying he was not in control of the ball
‘Looking from the outside, it doesn’t look like Nic Berry and World Rugby put the same amount of effort in as Rassie did. Rassie will have worked through the night on Saturday. Nic Berry didn’t phone him back. The normal channels did not work. If the channels don’t work, what is the next step?
‘Warren Gatland speaking out about Marius Jonker, the TMO, was planned and calculated. If World Rugby was really serious, they would have said something to Warren. Rassie has just done the same thing on a bigger scale. World Rugby should have said to Warren: no more talk. World Rugby did nothing so Rassie just exposed a totally incompetent performance.
‘The worst thing World Rugby can do is go and fine Rassie or tell him to keep quiet. It would be hypocrisy because they never said a word to Warren. They should apologise to the Lions and the Springboks and say they’ll make sure the standard of refereeing preparation is the same as the teams.
‘Why did Rassie go that far? Because he knows what it means to the country.’
Who knows what the man has got up his sleeve next?
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