Here we are two months on from that bloodbath in Twickenham with two teams in the final of the 2023 RWC, 28 years after their first and only previous encounter in the final in Transvaal.
On top of this, the two teams have the greatest rivalry in the game! You have a New Zealand coach that was almost made redundant until the game in South Africa last year, he is up against a true warrior in Rassie Erasmus (even if he’s not head coach).
In 2018, Rassie a committed person with a determined mind and passion in his green blood took charge as head coach of South Africa. He would put South African rugby back to where their supporters expected it to be.
In twelve months he transformed the team by going back to what is South Africa’s DNA, no longer trying to play an All Blacks style of running game but going back to the powerhouse set pieces and direct running.
In the final against England, this opened up the options to go wide by dominating the set pieces, and South Africa ended up with a dominant performance and win.
A weapon of Rassie’s is knowing how to manipulate the media to deflect attention away from his team. He played that card in 2019 by stating that the focus was on 2023. Meanwhile, he would have been focused on winning back then with the players being under less pressure and focus.
Fast forward to the video saga after losing to the Lions when he complained about referee Nic Berry, this went international with many turning on him, rightly or wrongly.
But again the media played into his hands by taking the attention off the players. Unlike others, he knows how to be the instructor while the media plays musical chairs by jumping up and wondering which chair to run to.
Many outside of South Africa do not know who he really is. What makes him tick? Do the players really respect and trust him?
Rassie is a passionate supporter of the game and team, he also loves his country and wants the best for it. In 1995, South Africa came together as a nation after winning the RWC, this is what he wants again hence his passion and professionalism.
Eddie Jones tried to use the media but couldn’t understand how and became confusing by changing tactics regularly. Rassie has experienced the media at home and in the northern hemisphere and understands how they operate.
If you win the media over then you have won half the battle off the field; Graham Henry and Steve Hansen knew this as All Blacks coaches. If you lose their trust then the supporters follow as the media has more influence now than in the past.
Beyond the media, Rassie is changing the game overall, placing more importance on set pieces as well as redefining how the bench is used. Case in point, South Africa have opted for a 7-1 split for the final. Juicy!
England were ridiculed for their semi-final tactics, but like in any sport it is about playing to your players’ strengths by realising what your opponent has.
The Boks still slow the game down but is it not their fault as it is done in the laws of the game set by World Rugby, even changes in the laws will stop certain teams from slowing the game as there are many ways to do this.
In the upcoming RWC final, New Zealand will be wondering which style of game Rassie will go with, do not put it past him to go with a more fast pace and attacking style.
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One thing for sure is that only Rassie – and Jacques Nienaber – know what way they will get the Boks to play. Win or lose, Rassie will go down in South African history as an innovator and game-changer for the good of the sport and country.