Tuesday 12 November 2019

Rassie Erasmus confirms World Cup final will be his final game as he makes one change to face England

South Africa's head coach Rassie Erasmus during training
South Africa's head coach Rassie Erasmus during training

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Tokyo

Rassie Erasmus has confirmed that Saturday's World Cup final will be his final Test in charge of the Springboks.

The former Munster director of rugby this morning made just one change to his team for the Yokohama showdown with England, restoring Cheslin Kolbe to the wing. Eddie Jones has kept faith with the side that beat New Zealand, with Saracens scrum-half Ben Spencer replacing the injured Willi Heinz on the bench.

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Erasmus spent a successful, emotion-filled 18 months with Munster before returning to his homeland to take over as performance director at the South African Rugby Union.

After a disappointing Rugby Championship and November series cost Allister Coetzee his job, Erasmus appointed himself as the main man and he has steered the struggling team back from a series of historic low-points to being 80 minutes from the final.

No matter how it goes, he says this will be his final game in charge.

"To be honest, it's been 25 test matches, and is probably my last test – it is my last test match that I will be the head coach," he said.

"For me, it's an emotional one in the sense that I didn't think 25 test matches will go that quickly.

"When I went to Munster, I was sort of in the mode of doing the family thing and making sure that I see my children in the last four or five years before they get out of school, and thinking more strategically in terms of how we are going to get the schoolboys when I got back to South Africa, and help the Sevens and help Allister.

"The moment you get hands-on with the Springboks again, the adrenalin starts pumping again and you get back into the mould again, and it is a totally different feeling, and I am enjoying it thoroughly now.

"It's wonderful to be here. It's sad that it's only three days, and then it is all over. But I will be heavily involved, hopefully, still after this – whatever way we are going to go with the head coach.

"But hell, I must say, me being involved again gives me such hope for what rugby can do for South Africa.

"I was one of those guys three years ago who said ‘Let's just play, boys, let's just play. Stop talking about this hope thing, because everybody is talking about. Rugby is rugby, and let's just play'.

"But I've totally changed my mind. I believe if we play the right way, and with the passion, and the people can see it, it just helps people forget about their problems, and agree with things.

"I have enjoyed it thoroughly, and whatever happens on Saturday, we have to make sure we use this for the next four, five, six, seven years, that it doesn't get lost again, the positivity, what we get out of Saturday."

There had been speculation that Erasmus might turn to his bench to strengthen his starting XV, but instead he has kept the ‘Bomb-squad' intact and stuck with the decision to name six forwards and two backs rather than the conventional five and two.

Eddie Jones, meanwhile, has resisted the urge to pivot back to Owen Farrell at out-half by keeping faith with the 10/12 combination of George Ford and the Saracens man with Manu Tuilagi outside them.

After box-kicking their way to the final against Wales, the return of Kolbe at least expands South Africa's attacking horizon.

"Obviously we were a bit nervous when we lost him for the semi-final," Erasmus said.

"Cheslin is world-class. He showed it all over whenever he has played for us – no matter if he slotted in at 15 or played wing. Everybody knows that he's got that X-factor, and against England, the way they defend, it is something that we will definitely need."

It has been noticeable that Jones has not been trying to get at Erasmus in the way he often does with opposition coaches.

The duo worked together 12 years ago before South Africa won their last World Cup.

"I sometimes think the way Eddie engages with the opposition coaches through the media is very clever, and takes off the brilliance of his coaching," Erasmus said.

"Sometimes other coaches get involved and talk to Eddie, forgetting he stays on task, coaching his team, planning, tactical work, leadership skills, video sessions, gameplan…

"That is one of Eddie's masterstrokes. I enjoy people like that, as it is another skill that a coach has. I, for example, can't do that. The moment I start doing that, I tend to forget exactly what I must do in a video session or in the lineouts."

Rather than throwing mud in the Springboks' direction, Jones has been focused on his own team getting their performance right.

"We just have to go out and play. The great thing for us is we know we've done the preparation, we're ready for this occasion. We've spent four years getting ready for this occasion," he said.

"That's why the players can be relaxed, that's why I can be relaxed because we know we've done the work but we are not relaxed about knowing what's in front of us. We know South Africa's going to come hard. They've got a history of being the most physically intimidating team in the world, so we've got to take that away from them.

"The boys know what's ahead of them, everyone knows what's at stake but, because we've had such a good preparation, we know we can go out there and play without any fear.

"That, generally speaking, the World Cup (final) is between the two best teams in the world, you have to win your pool and you've got to win a quarter-final and a semi-final so you've got to be at the top of your game.

"That means both the teams mentally, physically and tactically, are ready to go. I think it's what happens on the day rather than what happens before the game."

World Cup final: England v South Africa, Saturday, 9.0; LIVE: Eir Sport, RTÉ2;

SOUTH AFRICA - W le Roux; C Kolbe, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; H Pollard, F de Klerk; T Mtawarira, M Mbonambi, F Malherbe; E Etzebeth, L de Jager; S Kolisi (capt), PS du Toit, D Vermeulen. Reps: M Marx, S Kitshoff, V Koch, RG Snyman, F Mostert, F Louw, H Jantjies, F Steyn.

ENGLAND - E Daly; A Watson, M Tuilagi, O Farrell (capt), J May; G Ford, B Youngs; M Vunipola, J George, K Sinckler; M Itoje, C Lawes; T Curry, S Underhill, B Vunipola. Reps: L Cowan-Dickie, J Marler, D Cole, G Kruis, M Wilson, B Spencer, H Slade, J Joseph.

Ref: J Garces (France)

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