Rassie got what he wanted from Twickenham game

rugby23 June 2024 06:00
By:Gavin Rich
article image
Rassie Erasmus @ Getty Images

The momentum that the Springboks were looking for ahead of the series against Ireland was established and Rassie Erasmus said it was “goal achieved” but it was unsurprising to hear the coach say that the 41-13 win over Wales was far from perfect.

That last thing the double World Cup champions would have wanted ahead of the first test against Ireland in Pretoria in a fortnight from now was a game where Wales capitulated easily and everything went right.

Erasmus knows better than anyone the folly of going into a tough series feeling over-confident and a bit smug, and although he wouldn’t have known it at the time of the post-match press conference, he was talking just ahead of a Vodacom United Rugby Championship final where the favoured Vodacom Bulls played like a team that had played its final the previous week.

The Boks know they have much work to do before they front Ireland, and that’s the way Erasmus would want it as he and his team head into the buildup for an eagerly awaited series against the No 2 ranked team in the world.


The Erasmus balancing act of the next four years, where he will blend in new players to refresh a group that has so many decorated players who will be heading into their mid-30s or beyond by the next World Cup in 2027, has begun. As hoped, the Boks haven’t forgotten their core strengths, although their lineout was decidedly ropey and their discipline was all over the place for a while, and they also showed hints in the London game of the new things that will be brought by the assistant coaches.

Jordan Hendrikse made a nervous start in his first game at international level at flyhalf, which was unsurprising if you consider he played behind Sanele Nohamba for much of the URC season at the Emirates Lions. But he recovered later in the game, and his kicking from the tee found its radar.

Hendrikse was overshadowed on the day by the man who came on to replace him in he last quarter, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu. The DHL Stormers youngster showed his temperament by kicking a monster penalty from inside his own half just a few minutes after coming onto the field. This was Twickenham, meaning sea level, not altitude, so it was a special kick and a special moment.

Edwill van der Merwe, making his debut on the wing, had his special moments too, such as when he burnt his opponents on the outside with one of his first touches of the ball early in the game and then when he scored a great individualistic try five minutes from time. Ben-Jason Dixon was introduced to international rugby and that will hold him in good stead, as will the minutes his franchise captain Salmaan Moerat spent on the field.

Aphelele Fassi needed to show in this game that he could bring more to his play than just his attacking prowess, and he did that in spades with his fielding of the high ball barrage from the Welsh, his rather awkward take that led to a bizarre yellow card notwithstanding.


Otherwise, it was the regulars, the ones who already have World Cup winner’s medals, and in many case two, locked away somewhere, that steered the ship through some turbulent waters to what was ultimately a comfortable victory with the predicted winning margin of more than 20 points.

“It wasn’t a perfect performance,” said Erasmus. “We made a few errors and there were things that didn’t click, but there were others that did, so it was a good start.

“We have new coaches and had a few players making their debuts, so there were areas of the game that were not as good as we would have liked it to be, but there was certainly no lack of effort and intensity, and we realise it will take time for things to gel together nicely. The important thing is that we achieved our goal and the players who made their debuts showed that they are capable at playing at this level.”


Erasmus was pleased that the Welsh gave what he expects from that nation - a typically physical performance. Even though the Wales team was an inexperienced one, it showed that it wouldn't be cowed by the Bok physicality like other teams might and, as captain for the day Pieter-Steph du Toit predicted on the eve of the game, just kept going even when facing a big deficit.

“It was a tough match as it always is against Wales. I thought our scrums went well, but we didn’t dominate the collisions. We also conceded a try, but we scored five and we could have scored more, but those are things we need to work on going forward,” said Erasmus.

“It was a beneficial game for us because some players were not eligible for selection and a guy like Jasper Wiese is still out (on suspension), while some of the Japanese players haven’t played in a while. But the young guys stepped up to the plate and played really well.”


One of the Japan-based players who has not played in quite a while was hooker Malcolm Marx. He hadn’t played rugby since being injured during the World Cup in France last September, so the rust he showed in some of his lineout work in particular was anticipated. He will be up and running in the coming weeks, and just the fact he returned to the field with no apparent ill effects from his nine months on the sidelines was a huge positive.

Du Toit agreed that much had been achieved by the 80-minute workout in front of a big Twickenham crowd, many of whom were South African expats supporting the South African team.

“It was awesome to play at Twickenham, and with all the fans here, it almost felt like a home game,” said Du Toit.

“I was a little stressed before the match, because one has to consider how you are feeling as well as the rest of the team, but I feel we achieved a lot in this match.”