Springboks’ architect behind drastic transformation before England Rugby World Cup semi

South Africa head into the Rugby World Cup semi-final vs England as favourites, and they have one man in particular to thank.

The stereotypical image of the Springboks is one of massive forwards wreaking havoc on everything in their path like some marauding army of stone giants wearing green and gold, with little to no fluid attacking rugby. It made them simple to categorize and even simpler to be against. South Africa would have been prominently shown in a parade of the evil guys in rugby.

But recently, something unusual has happened. There has been a transformation. The South African team that will play England will have that fundamental component of muscle that is the DNA of the Springboks, but they can also play.

With Manie Libock zipping passes left, right and centre and Cheslin Kolbe doing his hot-shoe shuffle out wide, the Springboks have become strangely loveable.

Not everyone feels this way – as the online death threat Boks scrum-half Cobus Reinach had to deal with after the quarter-final victory over France showed – but for the non-unhinged their evolution has been a surprising treat.

The architect of the transformation, the architect of everything Springbok is director of rugby Rassie Erasmus. His explanation of why this has happened is fascinating.

After South Africa lost to France 11 months ago, Erasmus decided on the radical revamp of the side’s approach. While it made them a whole lot easier on the eye, that wasn’t the point.

France v South Africa: Quarter Final - Rugby World Cup France 2023

Erasmus remembered, “After the most recent French game, I wrote a few tweets and a lot of people claimed it was contentious. We cannot solely rely on mauling, scrumming, and close-contact work, when it is very challenging for the referee to make the right call. We will need to modify and make things clearer for refs.

“If you just rely on a particular facet of the game, which is difficult for the referee to call, and he makes two mistakes while you get four chances per game, 50% of your chances are lost. However, the referee and players have easier decisions to make if shots are fired during open play, general play from the top of lineouts, or counterattack.

“We had to adapt and try and score tries through more open, fluent, running rugby. You can see in our try-scoring tally there’s a lot scored by our backs – more than our forwards.

“As a team we don’t want to be this wonderful playing rugby team that the whole world loves, but we do want to score tries.”

South Africa Captain's Run - Rugby World Cup France 2023

 They scored four in that quarter-final victory over France to take their total for the tournament to 25. Just six of those have been scored by forwards.

It doesn’t mean South Africa aren’t capable of reverting to type should the situation demand it. If the heavens open in Paris tomorrow night, they can still rumble with the best of them but they have so many more options available now.

Once upon a time their opponents would know exactly where the threat was coming from and it was up to them to find a way to stop it.

The problem for England at the Stade de France is there is potential trouble lurking for them around every corner and that makes everything a whole lot more difficult.‌

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