Rassie Erasmus has given South Africa an identity built on mauling opposition, a great scrum and great defence
“The way we played against Scotland we weren’t precise, we weren't at our best, but the way the boys played in terms of the intensity and physicality was there. It is extremely hard to play against South Africa because we are sticking to what makes us great.
“We went through phases when we tried to play like New Zealand and then Australia, that didn’t work for us. We have big forwards but sometimes we don’t have the same skill set and structures. Rassie has given us an identity and a belief that even with the way we play we can win.
“It is surely not pretty but it is mightily effective in Test match rugby. He wants us to play to our strengths which are: a great mauling game, great line out, great scrum and a great kicking game and defence. Those are the four things that are fundamentals.
“We know how to play to our strengths. The South African public had a proper go at the coaches between the World Cups. I remember one discussion with Rassie when he spoke about rotation, trying different combinations and growing depth.
“He said, ’Guys can you remember who won the 2006 Rugby Championship or any other?’ I couldn’t and I was involved in some of them. His point was it is all about the World Cup. Their focus is getting ready for World Cups between World Cups. They are very precise on the way they plan. He is where he wants to be going into this World Cup.”
South Africa are World Cup favourites because they have the experience of winning already
“1995 was the hardest and it had a massive impact on South Africa. ’07 was important for that specific group and ours in 2019 was great for what is happening in South Africa for all the internal economic problems and racial issues.
“In 2019 the focus was not just to win a World Cup, it was something much bigger; trying to show SA that regardless of race, religion or background we can show SA we can work together. If there is a bigger meaning to just lifting a Cup it becomes very personal.”
Losing Malcolm Marx is like New Zealand losing Dan Carter or Richie McCaw
“It is huge. I said before the one player we could not afford to lose was Malcolm. We only have one other hooker. The way we use him with the Bomb squad and as a starter and he is a world class player.
“It’s like New Zealand losing Dan Carter or Richie McCaw. He is such a great guy. His value within the squad and outside is phenomenal.”
The 7-1 split on the bench is all about applying scoreboard pressure and hurting teams
“South Africa are changing strategies to make sure there are different ways of applying scoreboard pressure. South Africa showed that in the game against New Zealand. We had so many kicking opportunities and preferred going to the corner. That was pre-planned with the 7-1 split.
“If you scrum and maul all the time you get a build up of lactic acid. It is weird but being in a scrum for an amount of time and being under pressure your legs start feeling like jelly and you can’t run as you would want to.”
The South Africa coaches will get ‘slaughtered’ if the 7-1 split fails
“It is a massive risk. But like most things in any kind of investment it is high risk and it comes off they call you a genius. If it doesn’t you get slaughtered. The coaches have picked players who can play in different positions.”
South Africa have a definite strategy to beat Ireland - they have history of cracking in big games
“I wasn’t at all surprised. They have a definite strategy on how to beat Ireland. Ireland are a phenomenal World Cup machine. The way they get in place and the way they run their structures is phenomenal. Andy Farrell has given them a hard under belly.
“We always thought Ireland would be in a game but eventually crack. Farrell has given them a belief that is amazing. He is a great coach who coached me at Saracens. He has given belief to the players.
“They never spoke about not making a World Cup quarter final. Farrell was the guy who said we need to get this monkey off our back. Keeping quiet doesn’t do that. We need to talk about it. And it is in the players hands to do that. He takes issues head on.”
Ireland's Achilles heel might be the influx of Leinster players who lost the European Cup
“There are a lot of Leinster boys in the team and they didn’t win the European Cup. But they did get to the final.
“The big thing for Ireland is Sexton firing because they get momentum from that. But even if you have the best structures in place it is very hard if you are getting worked over in a scrum or lineout and losing territorial advantage by giving penalties away.
“That has a psychological impact on a team. You lose energy – every time there is a penalty against you it saps the opposition.
“You can have magicians in the back division but it is very hard to win if your pack doesn’t dominate.”
Manie Libbok has changed the South Africa backline - I haven’t seen it function this well for ‘a very long time’
“I haven’t seen the back line function as well as it has done for a very long time. He is such a talent when it comes to attacking play. He has been given an opportunity and taken it. He has given space and that extra dimension to our attack.
“But we must remember Pollard’s history. People forget his achievements. He is a world class ten who has played at Montpellier who was great for The Tigers but was injured and did not have an opportunity to show himself.
“Handre Pollard has won a World Cup and is world class. He has matured and will help Manie to be the best player he can be and when he (Pollard) is asked to play he will step in and will rock. Marnie’s kicking wasn’t that great but if you only focus on a player’s negative points you will find weaknesses everywhere.”
I’m scared of Andy Farrell telling Ireland to turn our defence and kicking in behind
“I am biased. We need a bit of luck. If we get injuries on the pitch it is going to be tight. But if we can get the dominance we should get from a maul or scrum it becomes very hard playing against us.
“From a Springbok perspective we have got it right. We need to get dominance in the set piece and defend. Can we give them no go forward? That’s the big question. If they can’t get going forward from their carriers and from their structured play it’s hard.
“Their attack needs momentum and it needs quick ball. We will have to close down space, make sure you double hit them, push them back and slow the ball down.
“The one thing I am scared of is that from the start, Andy Farrell will try to turn our defence. It is horrendous trying to tackle someone who is kicking the ball all the time. You lose energy. Ireland will play a bit less at the beginning of the game but later on when they get inside our half, they will play the multiple phase attack which they do so well.”
Johnny Sexton will be targeted from the start - he is key to their success
“He is a great rugby player. He is playing as well as he was ten years ago. Actually better. He is key to their success. Ireland functions a lot better with him there than without. So we need to put a lot of pressure on him.”
Andy Farrell has empathy, builds relationships with players and has an unreal work ethic
“He has empathy, he builds relationships with players. Although he is your coach he becomes your friend. When I was at Saracens we were invested in each other’s lives. He has very strong principles.
“If you have a guy like that who is honest, hard-working and with empathy then you are halfway there. The players play for him. He asks the hard questions, attacks issues head on and I have huge respect for him. He has been there and done it all. He has a work ethic second to none.”
Steve Borthwick has to drop George Ford for Owen Farrell - England are better with him at fly-half
“That is the conundrum. He is the captain. Steve Borthwick has played and worked with Owen for years. Owen is an unbelievably competitive individual. Sometimes he pushes the boundaries but there is no malice in the way he tackles.
“He is just a competitor and people must remember that. He’s a guy that for some people would be easy to dislike. But when you get to know him, he is a very good guy and a big impact on him has been his kids in his life. So he is not a bad guy at all. He is a good guy.
“The selection conundrum is hard. Owen’s best position has always been at ten. He has been phenomenal the way he bosses a game, the way he plays and the team in my opinion works better with him at ten.
“I know England under Eddie liked the 10-12 combination with Ford and Farrell but I believe he is a ten. Even though George Ford was amazing against Argentina I would pick him at ten.”
The Saracens frenzy started by Ben Earl and Maro Itoje is real and works
“The Saracens frenzy is 100% real. In the beginning you have to artificially create energy, then eventually it becomes infectious. That’s what England are tapping into.
“At Saracens we didn’t have a leader of creating energy. But what we did have was everyone trying to create it.
“We talked about the fact that we didn’t celebrate good things enough in a game, however small they might be.
“So when I made a steal and Ben Earl is jumping up and down or he makes a great run we celebrate that, because we are firstly acknowledging what the player has done and secondly because he put his body on the line for the team.”
England can go all the way if they get their belief back
“Before the tournament I said England will do better than people think. They will probably get to the semi-finals.
“People like to hate England because of the past but for me they are a team which can go the whole way if they get their belief back.”
Fitness coach Aled Walters has transformed England behind-the scenes
“I have heard via friends that the fitness coach Aled Walters who is a great fitness coach and was with South Africa, pushed them really hard in the build up and during the pre-World Cup internationals.
“Normally you slack down on intensity before a game, but he did not. His thought process was that he had to push them as hard as possible and as a result they would not perform the way they want to because they would feel overtrained but the big thing is to taper down during the world cup with a fitter, more physical squad that can perform on weekends. So far it has been fantastic.”
South Africa will beat Ireland by four or five points - they could go out to France in the quarters again
“I think it will be South Africa by four or five.
“My prediction six weeks ago was always that we would play New Zealand in the quarters and France would play Ireland. I stick to that. South Africa and France will win their quarter finals with Dupont. When you’re at home the 50-50 calls tend to go your way. France are going to be phenomenal.”
Eddie Jones could be sacked if Australia don’t make the quarter-finals
“I have known him for quite a while. Eddie is an entertainer. He has had a pop at the media indeed everyone. He is under a lot of pressure. His view has always been the focus for Australia is the next World Cup in 2027. That said if they don’t make the quarter finals – and although he has a contract through to the next World Cup – it will be very interesting if he keeps his job.
“He takes the pressure off all the players. It becomes the Eddie show but the squad knows they need to perform against Wales. It’s do or die.
“Eddie really will be under pressure.”
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