Springboks

From 'Jaco Johan' to Pieter-Steph's 40 cm scar: 5 takeaways from Two Sides, Episode 2

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Warren Gatland and Rassie Erasmus (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Warren Gatland and Rassie Erasmus (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
  • Heinz Schenk highlights five talking points from Episode 2 of Two Sides, a three-part documentary series on the British & Irish Lions' 2021 tour of SA.
  • There's a pleasing human interest side to this episode relating to the different challenges of Stuart Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe and Pieter-Steph du Toit ahead of the 1st Test.
  • But there's no shortage of ominous scenes building up to what would morph into the infamous Rassiegate.

'Rassie's burner isn't it?'

Following the Covid-19 drama of the opening episode, it's unsurprising that much of the off-field intrigue revolves around the simmering media "war" between Lions coach Warren Gatland and Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.

It's not exactly news that the New Zealander was the initial instigator following a thoroughly annoyed questioning of why Faf de Klerk, the Boks' terrier-like scrumhalf, wasn't punished more severely for his tackling during the SA 'A' game.

However, it remains fascinating how Erasmus insists that there really was no intention - at least from his perspective - for the South Africans to remotely become involved become involved in a media circus that would dominate (and perhaps even sour) the Test series.

After all, at stages everyone involved seemed to, if not enjoy, be willing to stir the pot in some way.

"Warren and I were really good friends. Prior to them coming to South Africa we said that we don't want a 'media circus'," Erasmus says.

"We wanted it to be media friendly. No tiffs. Not one of us said anything in the media up until that stage. After the SA 'A' game, they moaned a lot, especially about Faf's yellow card and me being the water carrier.

"I told them if this water-carrier thing is such an issue, tell me. I'll go sit in the stands."

Shortly afterwards, the mysterious "Jaco Johan" Twitter account surfaces with several clips pointing out Lions indiscretions.

Some of the visitors' stars are asked about who they believe "Jaco Johan" is, but most of them just laugh.

Lock Maro Itoje though is brilliant: "Oh, that's Rassie's burner isn't it?"

'We've been working like this for years'

For all the doubts over whether Jacques Nienaber, as Springbok coach, really is his own man, it's pretty endearing how he doesn't shy away from stating that Erasmus is a major part of his setup.

In fact, there's an argument to be made that Nienaber's undeniable willingness to point it out is a sign of him being assured and independent.

"The way Rassie and I work is that we have a responsibility matrix between ourselves," he says.

"There are certain things Rassie will be responsible for and things I will give input for and things I'm responsible for and he gives input for. We've been working like this for years."

It's a dynamic that Bok skipper Siya Kolisi clearly relishes.

"They are so prepared, it made us believe. They are in tune with everything."

'I thought it was the end of Pieter-Steph's career'

Pieter-Steph du Toit's father, Pieter, immediately captures how significant the start of the Test series is for his eldest son - that it's even more prestigious than a World Cup.

Not that the family isn't aware of that sentiment given that the 2019 World Player of the Year's grandfather, Piet, played in the 1955 Lions series.

But the more prominent narrative is Du Toit's battle against a career-threatening leg injury sustained in 2020's curtailed Super Rugby campaign, one that basically amounted to compartment syndrome and could've seen him lose his leg.

He reveals he had to be administered morphine because of the pain and still sports a 40cm scar from the cut to relieve pressure of the swollen muscle.

"I really thought that was the end of Pieter-Steph's rugby career," says Pieter.

'He got it bad'

In keeping with the theme of players facing different battles ahead of the first Test, there are lovely inserts of two Scots, Stuart Hogg and SA-born Duhan van der Merwe.

Hogg's journey is a heartwarming one as he had embarked on two previous Lions tours and finally looked set to make his Test debut in New Zealand back in 2017, only to sustain a facial injury that denied him.

Despite trying to put up a brave face, Hogg was devastated.

In one poignant scene, his wife Gillian wells up with tears: "It took him months just to not be down. He was just so down."

Thankfully, there's a good ending to that.

Meanwhile, a visit is paid to Alhan and Dulene van der Merwe in George as they reveal how they deal with divided loyalties as son Duhan makes his Lions debut.

Duhan himself says it was just a case of getting on with the job.

For his mother, the struggle to deal with the "fall-out" of his decision to qualify for Scotland is hard.

"Duhan really got it bad," she says.

"You had South Africans and Brits blaming him. What they don't realise is the moment he wears that jersey, he's a Lion. He's just my boy, doing his job on the field."

'We needed clarity'

The final four minutes of the episode are, in one word, ominous.

"As we talk through this, it comes out that the attack coach got five things on the referee and the defence coach got five things on the referee and then I get five things.

"Sh*t, boys, the referee was an issue in this game," says Erasmus.

He decides to compile a video for World Rugby.

"None of this will get into the media" ... goes the clip from the 62-minute presentation.

Most of us should know what happened next...

 

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