France – Rassie Erasmus, the South Africa coaching director, has provided an explanation of how the Springboks altered their style of play in response to his contentious comments regarding officials following the team’s defeat against France in the previous year.
On Monday (AEDT), South Africa upset France in a thrilling 29-28 quarterfinal victory in Paris.
Following the Springboks’ four-point loss to the French in Marseille in November 2022, a number of Erasmus social media tweets were criticized, including by former top referee Nigel Owens and Wales coach Warren Gatland.
After each side received a red card from Wayne Barnes, Erasmus posted a series of tweets using video clips of the action, accompanied by comments pointing out areas the Springboks needed to improve in. It was widely taken that Erasmus was being sarcastic – although he argued at the time he was being genuine.
Owens was particularly harsh: “I don’t think this game is about questioning decisions once you start putting things out there on social media.” This bothers me and I don’t think it’s right.
“The best course of action is to follow the correct procedures; if everyone is sincere, truthful, and open, then that is the best course of action. Do not do it on social media.”
Ownes wasn’t hired by Erasmus, but the two have remained in constant communication even if the former referee didn’t join their team.
Erasmus said he has already spoken to Owens since the quarter-final triumph.
I will never forget that after the last French game, Erasmus told reporters, “to be honest with you and I mean it.”
“We will have to adapt and make things clearer for referees, we can’t just rely on mauling, scrumming, and close-contact work where it is very difficult for the referee to make the correct decision,” I noted in a few tweets that I posted. Many people commented that it was controversial, but I can still remember what I wrote as my caption. Since there are some gray zones there and it’s bustling and highly dynamic.
“So, we had to adapt. Also to try and score tries through more open, fluent, running rugby. And you could see in our try-scoring tally there’s a lot scored by our backs, more than our forwards.
“If you only rely on a certain aspect of the game which is very tough for the referee to referee and he gets two (decisions) wrong but you only relying on those three or four of five opportunities that you get, 50 per cent of your opportunities are gone. But if you fire shots in open play, general play from the top of lineouts or counter-attack, it’s clearer decisions for the referee and easier to make.
“As a team we don’t want to be this wonderful playing rugby team that the whole world loves, but we do want to score tries.”
After that game, he says, the squad realized what was wrong. The Boks had not lost a player to a card until Eben Etzebeth was given a yellow card for a head altercation in Paris. Against France, they only gave up six penalties, and the home team was left lamenting the missed opportunities.
As an outsider, what did you think? There is so much disappointment and frustration that it’s difficult to describe. I believe certain apparent and obvious things weren’t whistlebloated, but we want to watch the images again, which will only make us more disappointed and frustrated,” France captain Antoine Dupont stated.
“At crucial moments, we could have had a penalty. When you’ve gone forward 60 metres and you’re slowed down in the rucks, it’s pretty easy to whistle. I don’t want to sound bitter, moaning about the refereeing because we lost the match, but I’m not sure the refereeing was up to the challenge.”
The performance of Ben O’Keeffe divided the teams and fans, It was a similar case in England’s win over Fiji where the Pacific Islanders felt Frenchman Mathieu Raynal acted with ‘unconscious bias’ towards the tier one team.
Erasmus insisted: “Since we’ve changed our way, no matter if we are correct and the referees are wrong, respect must always be shown.
“Let’s respect the referees has been our entire motto. It is bidirectional. It is inevitable that he and we will both make errors. And all of the annoyance and communication breakdowns we experienced in the past due to different issues with Covid… that is the past. It’s simple to contact with them because of the great procedure in place.
“I’d prefer not to address the remarks made by France regarding the referee. We are simply trying to come to terms with the fact that both sides will make mistakes; this is something we have to work on and regain the respect for, and I believe it is gradually occurring.
Erasmus was as taken aback by how open and thrilling all four of the quarterfinals were.”I was shocked to see how many tries were scored in the quarterfinals.” That was a unique experience. Erasmus remarked, “I always thought it would be a grind, and it was a grind, a squeeze, and it was tight at the end.”
“However, I suppose that when we advance to the semifinals, defense, scrum, mauls, tactical kicking, and occasionally genius like Damian Penaud and Mathieu Jalibert will be needed. The English squad, which has players like Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes, will also need these skills. They have amazing players like [Ellis] Genege, who is capable of amazing feats in the game.
“However, those deep mechanical, fundamental aspects of the game will always start getting more and more important as it gets closer to that final, and hopefully we are in that final if we get past England.”
The 2019 winners seem to be timing their run flawlessly, as bookmakers predict that they will defeat England and face New Zealand in the final in less than two weeks. New Zealand will play Argentina in their semifinal.
Erasmus claimed that the coaching staff’s rest and rotation strategy was paying well despite criticism it had received, especially in 2023.
“During the World Cup, our average player plays 162 minutes,” he stated.
“Matches before the World Cup, where we played Rugby Championship and we played Wales and New Zealand again, I know people got frustrated when we were chopping and changing and I am not saying I am right [but] luckily, touch wood, up until this morning we don’t have any injuries from last night’s game.
“I couldn’t talk for other teams but I do know us and the England team will definitely have a close match because their numbers of spreading the load is not so much higher than ours.”