Columnists 6.3.2018 11:35 am

Rassie must look at lessons from history

Jon Swift

Jon Swift

The former Free State hooker is by anyone’s definition, deeply imbued with the ethos of rugby union – anyone who has bled buckets to serve the game at the sharp end of the scrum takes that as a given, part of the ebb and flow.

But he is also deeply serious about studying and analysing the game, bringing a wealth of knowledge to rewinding what has immediately unfolded before him and an understanding of the past, a delicate balance in anyone’s dictionary.

Having watched a Lions side truly emasculate the Bulls 49-35 in their Super Rugby derby at the Pretoria stronghold in front of the stunned Loftus Versfeld faithful, the Hooker stroked his head, always a hint that he had something to say about the result.

What is interesting to me,” he started out, “is that the basis of what was a comprehensive win was that the Lions employed traditional Blue Bulls rugby, dominating through the pack and breaking down any ideas of allowing any flowing rugby to be used against them. In a word, the Lions were awesome.

“Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen, the props who got the early mauling tries which swung the game on its head, were immense. So was Malcolm Marx, who you will understand, I always watch closely.

“But the whole side were comfortable to change their game and fit it to the moment. It is early days yet in Super Rugby, but they are already showing signs of a combination which will be hard to stop.

“My only real criticism would be that with the koeel deur die kerk and the match already beyond their grasp, the Lions took their foot off the pedal and let in some soft tries.”

That said, the Hooker shook his head, another sign that another idea had struck him.

“But before we get too carried away,” he continued, “we have the Blues at Ellis Park next, not in any way an easy game, but one Rassie Erasmus, as the new Bok coach, will certainly be watching closely.

“He is already on record as saying that no decision has yet been reached about who will captain the Springboks through to the World Cup in Japan next year. But in his defence, Rassie made that comment before Warren Whiteley, still probably ring rusty from his long injury lay-off, led the Lions from the front at Loftus.

“Rassie would also do well to take a look at recent World Cup history. It was around about this time in the build-up to the 1999 World Cup that Nick Mallett started losing faith with his captain Gary Teichmann, a skipper who carefully marshalled his side.

“The result was that Teichmann was dropped for the World Cup, the Bok side splintered into factions and were never really a factor. Today, Mallett acknowledges that it was his biggest error as a national coach.

“For my money, Rassie risks making the same mistake if he overlooks Whiteley. Like Teichmann, Warren is a leader any team will walk through walls for. And to win a World Cup from what is very nearly a base of zero, the kind of man who is essential.”

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