“We Know It Will Be As Tough As It Gets” – Rassie Erasmus

 

SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus expects an epic encounter against England in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final at the Stade de France in Paris, with the former Springbok flanker declaring that it will be “as tough as it gets”.

Despite a slow start to England coach Steve Borthwick’s tenure, the team have come out firing in the RWC, registering victories in all four of their pool matches against Argentina, Japan, Chile and Samoa before knocking Fiji out in the quarter-final on Sunday to book their place in the top four.

Erasmus poured cold water over the idea that the Springboks are the favourites, saying England would have all the motivation they needed this weekend, considering their 32-12 defeat in the 2019 RWC final in Japan, and defeat in the last match between the two sides at Twickenham in 2022, where the Springboks emerged 27-13 victors.

“They are unbeaten (at the RWC), they’ve stuck to their guns since Borthwick was appointed, and they are a team that believe in what they are doing,” said Erasmus.

“They will still be hurting from last year and the 2019 World Cup final, so they’ll be desperate. It always hurts when you lose in a Rugby World Cup, and I guess England would feel like that, and they’d want to get one back on us. They are playing for their country, and they’ll want to make their people proud.

“So yes, I believe they’ll have beef with us after last year and the last World Cup final. They will be very physical and step up in the set phases, and you never know what their players will dish up, especially (Owen) Farrell and their new scrumhalf (Alex Mitchell), who really lights things up. So, they have threats all over the park.”

Erasmus also had no doubt they would have special plans going into this match – just as the Bok coaches will be working hard on ways to get an edge over the opposition.

“We are as worried about the plans the England coach and Owen Farrell are making,” said Erasmus. “They won a Test with 14 men with a lot of drop goals and that aspect of their game could come up again this week.”

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber will announce his matchday squad for the clash on Thursday morning at 09h00 (SA time), and Erasmus said the coaches were still considering a few options.

“There is a temptation to bring Lukhanyo (Am) in this week and start Handre (Pollard) and Faf (de Klerk), as well as Canan (Moodie), and we are also thinking of a six-two split on the bench,” said Erasmus.

“Every player in our squad is fit so we have all 33 players to select from. We would also like to see what they do. If they go for a six-two split, then we’ll have to make some plans.

“We can also bring in a guy like Jean Kleyn who will bring some physicality against their tall lineout options. That’s probably the reason we are only announcing our team two days before the match.”

Erasmus insisted, however, that it was important to remain focused and to block out all the white noise ahead of what is expected to be an intense match-up: “There are three realities – what England believes, what the world says and what we believe. England have stuck to what has been working for them and they have not had many injuries. We’ll stay in our reality and focus on how we train. We know it will be as tough as it gets.”

Erasmus did, however, rule out a split of seven forwards and only one back on the bench: “It will be tough to have a seven-one split with Handre and Manie (Libbok) available, so a seven-one split is out of the question.”