Durban - When World Rugby’s verdict on Rassie Erasmus broke at 7.30pm on Wednesday night in South Africa, I swear I could hear Eddie Jones groaning all the way from London ...
Artful Jones, you see, is the master of mind games, and he more than anybody knows that the last thing England need is for the Springboks to grow an extra arm and leg because of a perceived sleight on a boss that has gone to war for them.
Erasmus’ infamous video was essentially about addressing the wrongs perpetrated against his players in the first Test against the British & Irish Lions in July.
He stuck his neck out for the players and now, four months later, World Rugby has brought down the guillotine.
It is true that in top-level sport, players should not require too much in the way of external motivation to perform at their optimum, but it does no harm either from a team point of view when the fire is stoked by “enemies of the state.”
Jones knows this, and he knows the SA mentality intimately from his time with the Boks at the 2007 World Cup when he assisted Jake White.
Jones’ current forwards coach, Matt Proudfoot, is only too aware of the famous Bok “laager” mentality.
Two years ago in Japan, Proudfoot was in the Bok camp and he surely is fearful of the Boks reproducing the “death or glory” approach they took into the final against England because the whole world had written them off.
And before the Erasmus news broke, the Boks would already have drunk from the “them versus us” well after they were allegedly snubbed in the World Rugby Player of the Year nominations.
The Boks have every right to feel thoroughly disrespected because the rugby world seems determined not to acknowledge what the South Africans have achieved in extremely abnormal circumstances.
After playing no rugby at all for 20 months, they went in cold into a series against the Lions, and beat them. They beat Argentina twice and then went to Australia and, after a dip against the Wallabies, all but beat the All Blacks in the Centenary Test (they were the better team) and then a week later made sure of the job.
All of this was done while battling Covid-19 cases and eternal bio-bubbles ...
Unquestionably, the Boks will now be pulling themselves into their laager one last time in this most unusual of years and if coach Jacques Nienaber knows his Shakespeare, he might want to borrow a few immortal lines from Henry V, who prior to battle exhorted his troops for one last push with these words: “Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more; or close up the wall with our English dead ... ”
A touch melodramatic? Perhaps, but be sure that the Boks will empty the tank for this last match of 2021. They have been through hell this year and they want to finish as the No 1 ranked team on the planet and then put their feet up in satisfaction; and if in the process they can give World Rugby a “twos-up” for perceived insults to them and Erasmus, that would be the cherry on the cake.