Rassie Erasmus far from discouraged despite another All Blacks defeat
‘The two times they scored tries we weren’t organised. That is why they showed their class’
New Zealand fullback Beauden Barrett hands off South Africa wing Cheslin Kolbe during the Rugby World Cup Pool B at the International Stadium Yokohama. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images
Shortly after 9pm Rassie Erasmus eased his long frame into a seat, absorbed the questions and calmly invited other nations, other contenders, to step up against the world champions.
South Africa had been beaten by New Zealand but you sensed that deep down, Erasmus was not discouraged. There was enough substance in this pulsating and sometimes wild night to convince him that his team might have a prolonged stay here in Japan, that they might even meet New Zealand again.
History has demonstrated that no beaten team has lifted the Webb Ellis. But there are first times for everything and all of that. But now, this mammoth occasion is over and done with.
The Blacks: their menace and their aura, are not South Africa’s problem anymore. The point is this: South Africa can march through to the final without having to worry about them. Who could blame Erasmus for putting a bit of mayonnaise on the hot dog?
“No, look, I think people must remember we are four or five in the world so I don’t think we are the benchmark – in the likes of England, Wales and Ireland, I think New Zealand will have some stiff competition. We have played them six times now in the last two years so we know each other very well. They are favourites from the World Cup and have always been. We feel we are a little bit closer and are challenging them.”
Erasmus can watch Scotland and Ireland snipe at each other in this stadium on Sunday secure in the knowledge that his team will be playing the winner.
“We have an important game against Italy along the way,” he pointed out when that prospect was raised.
“In the last two years we have had a slippery game against them and maybe we should mention them before we start talking about quarter-finals. But I tell you: Scotland, Ireland, Wales . . . so many teams that can do well on the day. To answer the question, I wouldn’t prefer Ireland or Scotland. Gregor is a great coach. Joe is a great coach. Obviously we know Ireland really well but they know us as well.”
It finished 23-13 here: a tantalising score. A late New Zealand try would, Erasmus said, have made it look like “a good hiding”. But there were moments, too, when it was possible to imagine alternate scenarios.
“Obviously the one kick was against the post and it could have been 6-0. And late in the game when the score was 17-13, those three points could have been vital. But all credit to New Zealand because they had one opportunity and pounced and the scoreboard pressure was reversed. That showed experience and it showed a world-class team and we struggled with that.”
And both the New Zealand tries came off South African errors: it wasn’t as if they had been on the rack and facing wave after wave of Kiwi pressure. Instead, they found themselves opened in broken play.
“That is a difficult thing. To shut New Zealand down from lineout play or scrums: the kicking game I wouldn’t say it is easier . . . most of their tries come from turnovers and bad kicks.
“When you turn over a ball obviously you are not set and you can have guys out of position and maybe a lock next to a centre. That is sometimes when you play without the ball against New Zealand, you don’t have as many turnovers. Today was a classic example. The two times they scored tries we weren’t organised. That is why they showed their class. Even their two young wingers . . . they just pounced.”
“I think the penalty count was 11-two [the official count was 9-4] so we did 11 things wrong and have to go and fix it. They only did two things wrong which is unbelievable by them. So that battle we lost.”
But Erasmus didn’t seem all that disheartened by that. To cough up that many penalties and walk away with a 10-point defeat against the world champions was the not the worst outcome in the world. They had come through a hellfire of a rugby game and apart from the historical precedent are none the worse off than they were when they arrived here.
“Yes I think we will fight back,” the coach promised. “Even in the game we fought back.
“We would have loved to win to get some momentum going to the quarter-finals. But I tell you, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, so many teams can do well on the day. Looking at Wales and England, on two consecutive weekends they smashed each other, and even New Zealand and Australia, on two consecutive weekends the score went from 40 points one way to 40 points the other.
“By all means they’re the favourites but they will have different tactical challenges against the northern hemisphere teams.”