- Former Springbok loose forward Warren Brosnihan, who featured in six Test matches for his country, talks about Duane Vermeulen’s decision to delay his retirement and the next in line.
- The ex-Sharks flanker, who moved from eighthman to accommodate a former Bok captain, assesses Siya Kolisi’s rise and whether it was the correct timing to release an autobiography.
- The SuperSport commentator also runs the rule over the balance of the Bok loose trio and outlines where he feels the game will be won or lost at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Your outlook ahead of South Africa’s northern sojourn?
Warren Brosnihan: The Springboks’ next game is the biggest challenge and, as such, there is no biggest threat when it comes to choosing between Wales, Scotland and England. Wales believe they have a psychological edge over South Africa in Cardiff and they are going to drive that in. It’s going to be a tough tour, but I honestly have huge confidence in the Springbok team. I don’t ever want to appear arrogant or take things for granted, but if the Boks can come with the correct game plan and the players’ energy levels are up, I really believe the men in green and gold can win the three games on tour convincingly. It’s going to prove a proper challenge this month and it just takes one refereeing decision to go against you and the momentum swings in a game. It’s a tour two years out from the Rugby World Cup and it’s a great snapshot now for the development of what’s going to happen and to build on confidence. We are currently sitting with players with good age profiles to play at the next World Cup and I believe that 80% of the Bok core will shift through to France 2023.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Duane Vermeulen delaying his retirement?
Warren Brosnihan: Duane was coming out of contract and coupled with the injury problems, he was contemplating international retirement after the British & Irish Lions series. However, he is an absolute warrior and it’s a benefit to the Springboks that he has agreed to extend his stay until 2023. If you back him, he’s going to keep going. He dropped something of a bombshell at looking to retire from Test rugby, but he’s in that age profile. There are good youngsters such as Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw, who the Boks will need to start blooding over the next couple of years. For the short-term, it’s good that Duane has decided to carry on because he can still add value. He has done amazing work to be back on the field. I have inside knowledge of his attempt to get back in time for the third Test against the British & Irish Lions. A friend of mine has a decompression chamber and I know that Duane was up early in the morning to sit in it for an hour. He would then go off to do his rehabilitation, physiotherapy and conditioning. He ran weightless at the beginning and then in harnesses on the treadmill. If his desire was waning to play, the motivation to wake up in the morning wouldn’t be easy. However, the motivation remains unwavering and he can still play a role.
Sport24 asked: Do you like the balance of the Springbok loose trio?
Warren Brosnihan: Yes. In Pieter-Steph du Toit’s absence, I’m in favour of playing Kwagga Smith ahead of Franco Mostert. Mostert is a warrior and can do a job at flank, but it was a patch job he was doing. The Boks got exposed on defence against Australia because one of the hardest places to defend is the tail of the lineout. That vacuum is where teams are launching from as there are more lineouts than scrums in the game. Even as an out-and-out loose forward, it’s a tough place from which to defend and when things are happening at pace you can get exposed. Mostert does such a good job at lock and I’d welcome his work-rate in the second half. Kwagga did really well against the All Blacks at openside and competed on the ground effectively so deserves to retain his spot. Against Wales, who are effective on the deck, South Africa need to have some speed across the ground and try stealing the ball when the opportunity presents itself. I would retain the incumbent trio of Siya Kolisi, Kwagga Smith and Vermeulen. I would have Jasper Wiese and Mostert coming off the bench.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of Siya Kolisi’s rise to the top?
Warren Brosnihan: I don’t want to be controversial, but I think autobiographies are for when you have retired. However, Siya has walked a long road already and is an amazing individual. He’s a credit to South Africa which is a country sensitive to a number of different dynamics. He has walked the line through it and has garnered universal support from up in Pretoria to all the way down to Cape Town. Siya had a really good Rugby Championship and was especially effective against New Zealand, where he really upped the ante. He recently made the provincial switch to the Sharks and it will do him the world of good because sometimes a player needs to recalibrate. I feel it was a good move because a change of environment can prolong his career. As South Africans, we can all be very proud of Siya. He’s at the forefront of the Springboks and brand South Africa. Siya has brought people into the game of rugby and more supporters are watching because of him which is awesome.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Jesse Kriel’s selection on the right wing?
Warren Brosnihan: I think Jesse was definitely due a game, but Aphelele Fassi also deserves some game time. Jesse is in phenomenal condition and has a bit more weight so that may have counted in his favour on a heavier field. He can come into his own because when it gets wet your speed is almost neutralised. As a generalisation though, I don’t think it’s a wise move at all to play players out of position. It can work at times – as evidenced by Pieter-Steph du Toit’s move to flank and Rieko Ioane’s transition from wing to centre – but predominantly I prefer players to stick to their positions. It’s amazing because often the higher up you go in rugby, the more you get selected out of position. My first time playing flank was ironically for the Sharks – I always played number 8 – because Gary Teichmann was at the back of the scrum. I ended up becoming a flanker and was able to transition through it. But I would prefer to retain players in their favoured positions because I think it’s better.
Sport24 asked: Which coaches did you most enjoy playing under?
Warren Brosnihan: Ian McIntosh was my first entry point into provincial rugby. He was a coach’s coach and probably had the most impact on me as a player. His whole style of playing 15 against seven and the principle of getting your players across the advantage line, still sticks in my mind today. One of his game philosophies was for players to collect the ball at pace and not be stationary, which is a big problem we’ve got in South African rugby at the moment. Mac stopped coaching years ago, but players today still do it and they get the ball flat-footed. If we came onto the ball from a stationary position, Mac would chase us off the field! The other coach I really enjoyed was Nick Mallett. Even though 2000 was a tough tour, and Nick was under plenty of pressure, I learned quite a lot from him in that season. Those would be the two coaches who had the biggest impact on my life.
Sport24 asked: How have you seen Rassie Erasmus evolve over the years?
Warren Brosnihan: Rassie has made himself a legend with what he has done with the Springboks. To have taken that team where they were in 2017 to where they are today is amazing. Where the Springboks are held in the rugby fraternity now is testimony to Rassie... The first game I played for South Africa was Rassie’s first starting game against Australia. Rassie was always a competitor of mine so we were never big mates, but I always had the outmost respect for him. He was a very clever player and would think rather than power his way over. That is testimony to what he has brought over into his coaching. Even as a player, he was very analytical and we would hear about this guy whose fast forwarding through video tapes and analysing line-outs. The old adage of ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ is Rassie to a tee. Fair play to Rassie because Bok rugby was in a dire place before him and Jacques Nienaber returned from Munster. The whole of South Africa now looks at the team with pride and, with hard work and out-the-box-thinking, it highlights what can be done.
Sport24 asked: How do the Springboks take their game to the next level?
Warren Brosnihan: I believe we can take our game to another level owing to the players we have at our disposal. If we can keep them on track physically and mentally attuned, I believe we boast the ability to bring a game plan that is both power and skill-based. The Springboks have displayed some flashes of brilliance in recent times and, if they can couple the attacking flair with the power game they’ve got, the Boks can certainly take their game to another level. It’s about nurturing it through and getting buy-in from the playing group. The Springboks play off number nine quite a bit and I would like to see Handre Pollard, who is big and strong, take it to the line more often. I would also like to witness a loose forward or inside centre running unders lines on his inside and outside and presenting options. I honestly believe that all the ingredients are there to put together a proper dish of rugby that is all-encompassing from a Springbok point of view. We’ve got the players who can do it and it now comes down to the confidence levels. By all accounts, a player with Pollard’s carrying ability needs to play flatter and get over the advantage line. Pollard must look to mix it up tactically and bring in the Henry Honiball every now and again and then pull back for the Joel Stransky as well.
Sport24 asked: Your outlook ahead of the 37th Test against Wales in Cardiff?
Warren Brosnihan: Wayne Pivac has coached teams that like to give the ball some air so Wales could be less conservative under him than Warren Gatland. They possess a really good kicking game, but also boast some really good runners. They have got some good strike players and can without a doubt mix it up. Wales will target South Africa because they know how we play and believe they can match us. It’s going to be a tough game, but I don’t feel that Wales – who are ranked ninth in the world – have the same venom as the Springboks, particularly in the forward pack. The game will be won upfront without a shadow of a doubt. Wales’ lineout was a mess against New Zealand and they also need to shore up their scrum. I believe the Boks can target the set-pieces and apply pressure. If the Boks start piggybacking off that and earning penalties, that is how they can prosper on Saturday.