Brown’s words hint at possible Bok cycle dominance

rugby13 March 2024 07:58| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Tony Brown © Gallo Images

The Springboks are the world champions and while there are other nations who make pretensions to being the de facto best team in the world, certainly Ireland up to last weekend at Twickenham, it is only the Rugby World Cup that determines the holders of the title.

So whoever wins the next World Cup in Australia in 2027 will be the champions for the four years that come after that, building up to the RWC in the USA in 2031. And everyone knows that it all comes down to one game, one twist of fate, one drop goal in extra time as we saw positively for the Boks in 1995 and then negatively four years later, or one solitary point.

In eight appearances at the World Cup since they made their debut in 1995, eight years after the first tournament in New Zealand in 1987, the Boks have won the Webb Ellis trophy four times. That is a 50 per cent success rate, which is a remarkable record, particularly if you consider how close they might have gone had they had better luck in at least two of the other tournaments.


But one thing the Boks haven’t really done in the World Cup era is dominate in the in between years. Nick Mallett’s team, captained by Gary Teichmann, won the Tri-Nations and embarked on a record equalling unbeaten run in 1998, but that was the only season where the Boks effectively ruled the world in the period between the 1995 World Cup and the one in 1999. Ditto for the Boks after the next World Cup win in 2007 - they whitewashed the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations and won a British and Irish Lions series in 2009, but the years on either side of that were mediocre.

Given the narrow margins that separated the top four teams on the quarterfinal weekend at the most recent World Cup, and the one point that separated the teams in the final, you’d struggle to find a reason why this will be the four year cycle that will see the Boks forge ahead of the rest for the first time in the in-between years.

Until that is that Bok coach Rassie Erasmus announced the changes to his coaching team. And then Tony Brown, the new attack guru, went in front of the South African media for the first time since assuming his new role at a press conference in Cape Town this week.

Those who have worked with Brown or have a good knowledge of his philosophy will tell you he’d never have taken up the job if the Boks were intent on playing the physical domination, defence and per centages style of rugby that they were known for, not always fairly may it be added, before they started to play a more counter-attacking game against France in Marseille in 2022.


The havoc that has been wreaked on the counter and in transition play by the likes of Kurt-Lee Arendse, Cheslin Kolbe and Damian Willemse - remember the role of Arendse and Willemse in the great win over England at Twickenham in a later game on that same 2022 November tour - has made the Boks feared for their ability to strike.

The scoreboard isn’t being engaged so much in increments of threes anymore but fives and sevens. It was only a friendly game, but the Boks did make a big statement when they scored a record 35-7 win over the Kiwis in London before the World Cup.

But while the Bok attacking game has potential, what the Boks have still lacked is the structured attack that marks for instance Ireland’s game, and the ability to be consistently lethal in attacking from set phase. Imagine how good they may be if they get that right? The imagining may stop now that Brown is involved.

Brown didn’t mince words, he says he wants to help the Boks become the most dominant attacking force in world rugby. They are already the leaders in other areas related to forward play and arguably defence too, so imagine if Brown can bring some of the cutting edge we saw from the Japan team he has helped Jamie Joseph coach in recent years.

“What the Springboks have done over the past two World Cups is massively impressive. The way they’re able to win big games of rugby and win the key moments of those games has been a pleasure to watch,” said Brown.

“For me it is just really exciting to be part of it all going forward. The quality of player and their commitment to the Springbok jersey means that if we get our coaching right the Boks can be a real dominant force going forward,” said Brown.


The former Highlanders and All Black flyhalf, who also had stints at both the Sharks and the Stormers (where he first worked with Erasmus), was courted to be the All Black attack coach by both Ian Foster, now departed the scene, and his successor Scott Robertson. However, he felt loyalty to his good friend and long time coaching partner Jamie Joseph, who was coaching Japan at the time.

Joseph has now returned to New Zealand so Brown became available, and he says he jumped at the Bok offer when it came.

“One day I may coach the All Blacks, but I just want to be part of this coaching set-up and be part of the Springboks for the next four years. As soon as Rassie rang me I said yes. I’ve got so much respect for what Rassie has done with South Africa. I am excited to come in and be part of it, to watch him operate and learn from him.

“When I got asked to coach the All Blacks it was five years ago and at that time it just didn’t feel right,” he added.


Like a lot of New Zealand players who played in the era he did, the South African player that Brown most admired and respected as an adversary was Henry Honiball, the Bok and Sharks pivot who was as fearsome as a tackler as he was as a ball carrier and distributor.

“My favourite player was Henry Honiball and I tried to play the game that way as well,” says Brown.

Honiball, known as Lem (blade) to his teammates, was direct, in your face and constantly on the gainline so that tells you what Brown will be expecting from the Bok flyhalves while he is involved. It’s an added reason there should be confidence that his presence will be the point of difference that also proves the point of difference in this four year cycle between the Boks and the chasing pack.