Boks have evolved beyond ref’s whistle

The Springboks consciously decided to move away from relying on 50-50 calls from referees, says SA’s director of rugby.

Rassie Erasmus has explained how the decision to make the Springboks less reliant on the set-piece paid off in the quarter-final victory against France.

The Springboks, and Erasmus in particular, have endured a fractious relationship with World Rugby and the governing body’s elite panel of referees over the past three years.

The tension between the two came to a head in the fallout of the 2021 British & Irish Lions series, after which Erasmus received a ban for an hour-long video disseminating decisions made by referee Nic Berry in the opening Test.

However, the tension appears to have eased over the past year, highlighted by Erasmus’ attempt to hire former Test referee Nigel Owens to help prepare the Boks for the world cup.

There was further evidence during Monday’s press conference when Erasmus refused to comment on France’s criticism of referee Ben O’Keeffe’s performance in the world cup quarter-final clash on Sunday night.

Erasmus did open up on how the Springboks consciously decided to move away from relying on 50-50 calls from referees, by basing more of their play on free-flowing attack, rather than the dark arts of scrumming and mauling.

“I am serious when I say this. After our last game against France [in November 2022], I put out a tweet which a lot of people said was controversial,” Erasmus said, referring to a video he posted last November which was interpreted as criticism of Wayne Barnes, for which he was also banned.

“My caption there was we have to make things clearer for referees. We can’t just rely on scrumming, mauling and close contact, because that’s really difficult for referees to make the correct decisions. It’s really dynamic and there are a lot of grey areas.

“We had to adapt,” Erasmus added. “We can’t just rely on box-kicking, good defence, scrums, and mauls. We needed to score tries with more open, fluid, running rugby. You can see in our try-scoring tally, that there are a lot scored by our backs – more than our forwards.

“I was really serious with that tweet. If you only rely on a certain aspect of the game which is really tough to referee, it means you are only relying on those two, three, or four opportunities that you get. Fifty percent of your opportunities could be gone.

“If you fire shots in open play, it means clearer decisions for the referee, which are easier to make. That’s the difference for us as a team. We do want to score tries and not just where the referee has to make a tough call.”

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