Salt in Lions' wounds: Rassie plays heavy hand in series-clinching Steyn entry

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Rassie Erasmus. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Rassie Erasmus. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
  • The suggestion that Rassie Erasmus played a major role in Morne Steyn's substitution will rub some last salt in the wounds of the Lions after the veteran No 10 destroyed their dream of a series win yet again.
  • Head coach Jacques Nienaber revealed that the decision was a collective one and that it would've been "naïve" not to consult Erasmus too.
  • The Bok mentor praised the 37-year-old flyhalf for still taking his opportunities ruthlessly.

As the British & Irish Lions rue yet another agonising last-gasp failure to topple the Springboks at the hands - or rather boot - of Morne Steyn, the suggestion that Rassie Erasmus, their nemesis in 2021, played a decisive role in that tactical substitution will rub salt into their wounds.

The evergreen 37-year-old Bulls flyhalf wrote his own version of a rugby fairy-tale on Saturday night by slotting the last-minute penalty that ensured a gritty 19-16 victory and series win at the Cape Town Stadium, 12 years after doing exactly the same at his beloved Loftus.

Steyn entered the fray in the 64th minute and the decision paid off immediately as he converted a crucial three-pointer before coolly delivering his match-winning contribution with the minimum of fuss.

READ | Magical Kolbe, evergreen Steyn: Desperate Boks scrap, claw way to brutal British Lions series triumph

A masterstroke by Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber?

Not quite.

"On the substitutions, I would love to take the credit. But I can't," said Nienaber.

"There are a lot of discussions that take place around that. I don't want to use the word stupid, but I would be very naïve not to use a guy like Rassie in terms of feedback on substitutions. 

"I've been on the side of the field for many years, while Rassie was up in the coaching box. Now it's reversed, but it's always a discussion. We want to know what Rassie sees on the field and what the situation is down there along with the medical staff.

"We as coaches up there don't always know what's exactly going on at ground-level. Are the guys still getting into battles, doing their thing? I'd love to say I planned things perfectly, but it definitely wasn't like that. It's a whole coaching group decision and it was spot-on."

With a litany of question being asked throughout the series over the true extent of Erasmus' role - now, at least officially, just the national director of rugby - in the national setup, that revelation won't please his detractors.

Regardless, Nienaber was happier than anyone to see Steyn being rewarded for another stunning chapter in a stellar career, even if he didn't actually see his veteran pivot pop over the winning kick.

"I was sitting with my head between my legs," he said with a chuckle.

"I didn't see. I just listened. I'm just so happy for him, in terms of having that opportunity and taking it. It's a fairy-tale. Hats-off to him. 

"Like I said, it was a hour-long discussion earlier this week over whether we'll play Morne or Elton Jantjies and in this game, we felt experience was the way to go."

Meanwhile, skipper Siya Kolisi was at a loss for words in describing the magnitude of South Africa's victory, particularly given the backdrop of challenges all round.

"I can't explain what this meant for us as a group. Everyone had challenges. But we agreed from the outset that we wouldn't make excuses for anything. That's just not our way as South Africans," Kolisi said.

"When you step inside those four lines, you tell people that you are ready to play, regardless of preparation. We just looked at ourselves and worked as hard as we could, come closer as a team and fix our mistakes." 

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