Rassie Erasmus’s Springboks will beat Eddie Jones’s England in the June three-Test series.
And that series victory will be the springboard to the Springboks’ rejuvenation in 2018.
England, who have lost only once since Jones took over after the 2015 Rugby World Cup disaster of not making it out of the Group stages, are currently ranked second behind only the All Blacks.
Jones’s England, though, have yet to play the All Blacks and will meet the world champions for the first time (in the Jones era) at Twickenham in November.
Jones’s England have also played South Africa just once, and that was also at Twickenham.
England, in their history, have won just three Tests in South Africa, and for all the winning habit and success against Australia (five successive wins) and dominance of the Six Nations, they’re a side to be respected and not feared.
Had Jones played the All Blacks home and away at least four times in the last two years and been unbeaten then I’d be viewing England in a very different light. As it is, the biggest game Jones’s England have played, against Ireland in Dublin last year, was also the only time England have lost with Jones in charge.
Ireland, for me, are the best team outside of the All Blacks - and that win in Dublin (against England) added substance to this view.
Jones has worked miracles with England since the embarrassment of what happened to the squad at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. He has added a winning habit and mental resolve to the undoubted talents of so many players who were part of the 2015 debacle under Stuart Lancaster.
But a track record built over a period of time that doesn’t involve combat against the All Blacks will always be questionable, and I believe the Junes series will expose the soft underbelly of a win record that doesn’t include the All Blacks.
I would have never backed a series win against England had Allister Coetzee still been the coach because I don’t think he was equipped technically to outsmart Jones. I believe Rassie Erasmus can do a job on Jones.
A year ago I wrote on Sport24 that Coetzee’s Springboks would whip France three nil. I didn’t need hindsight to call that, as it had as much to do with the awful state of the French national team, who currently are ranked No 10 in the world.
The Boks duly delivered and I praised Coetzee for overseeing the victory.
His bigger Tests, I wrote at the time, were Albany (against the All Blacks) and Dublin (against the Irish). He failed them dismally, suffering 57-0 and 38-3 defeats.
That’s why he is no longer the Bok coach; not because of a plot to get rid of him because of his race or culture. Coetzee is gone because of a 44% win record and too many record defeats. Coetzee also never succeeded in a Test against a team ranked higher (at the time) than his Springboks.
If Coetzee had won 65 percent of his Test matches and not suffered those cringe-type record defeats he would still be the coach and Erasmus, as national director of rugby, would have added to the strength of whatever Coetzee was doing.
But he didn’t get a 65% win record and Erasmus now has 18 Tests and 600-odd days to prepare the Springboks for a World Cup. His focus will be on arriving at the World Cup with a winning Springboks habit and some big conquests, like knocking over England in a series in South Africa.
Once at the World Cup it becomes a tenure in a tournament.
There is enough time and there is enough player capacity, in South Africa and abroad.
There is also more than enough time to prepare.
There is no need to feel panic or apprehension.
There is clarity within the Springbok set-up because Erasmus’s role has been clearly defined. He is responsible for the performance of the South African national teams at all levels, including the Springboks.
He just will be hands on for the next 18 months when it comes to the sport’s flagship team.
I don’t see Erasmus as the savior of Springbok rugby or as the Messiah. No such thing exists, but I do see him as a better tactician, technical coach and selector than Coetzee, and it’s the selections that will prove decisive in the change of Springbok fortunes in 2018.
Erasmus’s nationald of rugby portfolio will in the course of next week be confirmed as including heading up the Springboks for the next 18 Test matches.
A decision on whether Erasmus will continue to double up as national director of rugby and head coach, as he did with Munster for two seasons, will only be taken after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
In the interim, Erasmus has been doing what every successful national director of rugby would be doing - and that is nurturing healthy relationships with the four Super Rugby and two PRO14 head coaches. He has been spending time with each of the regions, without imposing his own will on the interaction.
He has been vocal that it is a two-way relationship. It’s what he and his rugby department can do for each region as much as what they can do in terms of ensuring a better prepared player is available for June’s Springbok Test series.
There is calm on the rugby front, even if the manner of Coetzee’s dismissal would suggest chaos.
Jones will be more restless than he was a month ago and for good reason because June will be a month of jubilation for the Springboks.
Erasmus and the regional franchise head coaches will combine in the next three months to deliver a Springbok squad that will win the series.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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