Kiwi view: Why England don't need Rassie
OPINION: The emergency SOS proposal for England to sign Rassie Erasmus as head coach is simply not required. Rugbypass writer Ben Smith reports.
Lost in the hoopla over England’s third-place Six Nations finish is the lack of recognition that they already have been given a World Cup gift.
But firstly on Erasmus, the saviour who prepped the Springboks to World Cup glory in 18 months, who has been floated as potentially doing the same thing for England.
The Springboks’ rise to World Cup glory wasn’t just 18 months in the making. The pieces were already there for Erasmus and his staff to do what they wanted to do, based on years of work beforehand with the Stormers, and the playing group in place.
The starting Springboks pack for the World Cup final was 75 percent current or former Stormers players.
They had the cattle for Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, his assistant coach at the time, to run their defensive systems and game plans, similar to what they had already done years beforehand at the Stormers in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s.
Five of the Springboks starters in the forward pack were at the Stormers at the time, while a sixth, Duane Vermeulen was already very familiar with the style having played under Erasmus in Super Rugby. Three more forwards on the bench were former Stormers players.
It was a Stormers defence, run by Stormers coaches, with largely Stormers forwards, moulded together in a two-year period to take advantage of the World Cup draw after losing to New Zealand.
Many of the players – Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siyamthanda Kolisi – were in their mid-20s prime. If Erasmus is going to England, he cannot take the Stormers pack with him.
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There also is not a single club team in England with a pack like it that can come to the table at short notice with the level of understanding that already existed at the time with the Stormers in South Africa.
Furthermore, Nienaber – a key member of Erasmus’ support staff – has now succeeded his former boss as head coach of the Springboks.
There is zero chance he would leave at this point in time to join Erasmus’ coaching ticket in England or he’d risk putting the Boks into a period of instability.
Neither Erasmus nor Nienaber would have any desire to do that, you would think.
When they took over the Springboks from Allister Coetzee, the flashy backs and style from the Lions were shown the door, and the Stormers’ forwards became the centrepiece of the Springboks’ game.
It made the Springboks a competitive power once again but did it not reach a dominant level of winning, it must be said.
Erasmus, like it or not, won 59 percent of his games as head coach of the Springboks against tier one teams, with an overall record of 13-1-8 over 2018 and 2019.
If you consider Nienaber an extension of Erasmus and include the 2021 season, that was 58 per cent against tier one teams with a 7-5 record.
Since the start of this era of Springboks rugby, they have 20 wins, one draw and 13 losses against tier one opposition.
Should that form hold true with England’s resource of players, 59 percent gives England no better chance of winning the World Cup in 2023 with Erasmus as head coach than Eddie Jones.
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It is widely accepted you need to win three tier-one knockout fixtures in a row to win the Webb Ellis Cup. A touch below 60 percent gets you a semi-final appearance at best.
England aren’t going to be any better off with Erasmus, and actually don’t need him anyway as they have been handed a red carpet through to the semi-final based on the form of their future opponents.
Their 2023 World Cup campaign is going to be easier than that of a Six Nations.
England’s toughest opponents in pool play might be Samoa. Argentina, who are regressing at a rapid rate, and Japan are the two other contenders. Los Pumas have had a torrid run since losing their Super Rugby franchise, the Jaguares, and are losing strength as a tier one nation. It is unlikely that trend reverses.
For all the hope attached to Japan after their inspirational World Cup performance three years ago, they have played infrequently and were pummelled at the hands of Ireland in November.
Samoa will receive a host of international recruits under World Rugby’s eligibility changes to bolster the strength of their World Cup squad, making them an intriguing prospect.
England should win Pool D in a canter and will likely face Wales or Fiji, whoever is runner up in Pool C behind the Wallabies, in a generous quarter-final.
Wales are trending in the wrong direction after losing to Italy and enduring a disappointing Six Nations. A quarter-final against Fiji, despite their enterprising play, would be welcomed with two hands by England.
England have a potential cakewalk to a World Cup semi-final, should Wales fail to improve, which means they just have to win two tough games to claim the William Webb Ellis. This is on a silver platter.
On the other side it will be a bloodbath.
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South Africa has a much tougher task than last time and this time will be a real test of their credentials. Pool games against Scotland and Ireland will be tough, but largely winnable fixtures.
It’s not that they are likely to be underdogs, it’s that they will actually have to play a strong line-up, especially against Ireland.
A Tonga side full of new recruits like Malakai Fekitoa, Israel Folau and Charles Piutau will also give the Springboks a physical game.
What counts in tournament play is the freshest legs and being injury-free on the last day, and these pool games will count towards the price the Boks must pay to progress.
Should they top Pool A after overcoming Ireland, Tonga and Scotland, they will play the runner-up of Pool B in the quarter-finals: France, playing on home soil, or New Zealand.
There is a high probability the Springboks will play the All Blacks based on current form, with France topping New Zealand in the pool. The Springboks should dispatch Foster’s side, but it will take a heavy toll as history shows.
Only the 1991 Wallabies side have won the World Cup after knocking out New Zealand before the final. Every other side has fallen short: France (1999), Australia (2003), France (2007), England (2019).
By the time they reach the semi-final, the Springboks would already have played a tougher schedule than their 2019 win. England will barely get out of second gear into the semi-final stage.
South Africa need Erasmus on board to prepare for their encore, England don’t.
England have to pull it together in 18 months for two big knockout games. It is a lesser ask than a Grand Slam Six Nations title.
Eddie Jones will never get a better chance to coach a team to a Rugby World Cup victory with this silver platter schedule.
By Ben Smith, Rugbypass