The way Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus described his waterboy duties on Tuesday one would almost expect Jacques Nienaber to be paying him pocket money, but with the head coach sitting next to him and smiling broadly at the time, there is clearly no issue when it comes to division of labour.
This week former England and British and Irish Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward, in his column for the Daily Mail, said Erasmus should “butt out” because he is “taking over again” and the “confusion at the top and a lack of demarcation between the roles of director of rugby … and … national team coach … is killing the Springboks”.
“I’m not sure Clive Woodward is so important in South Africa, but Jacques and I are great mates, we’ve worked a lot together since our days in the military back in 1990,” Erasmus said in response.
“I’m the water-carrier now, so he’s got a higher rank than me now, that makes him my boss at the moment. If we had scored that try in the 71st minute (of the first Test) then people would say the relationship is working perfectly.
“Jacques’ job is the coaching, my job is to get the structure right, make sure we are given a fair chance, get through the Covid protocols and make sure players are available.
“I also need to inform people what is going on. And I help with the coaching plan and I carry water. The important thing is that all the players are now back on the park and training every day this week.”
Speaking of “a fair chance”, Erasmus said he was deeply concerned by the pressure Lions coach Warren Gatland put on TMO Marius Jonker last week, somehow implying that because he is South African he would favour the Springboks. Predictably, the opposite was true, with flank Hamish Watson escaping a yellow card for a tip-tackle and the hosts having a second try disallowed on what many considered a 50/50 call.
“We were very focused last week and just trying to bring back the positive vibe from the World Cup, so we didn’t say too much,” Erasmus said.
“The Lions were a bit the opposite. Warren Gatland, who is a great guy, spoke a lot about Marius Jonker and him being South African, which is weird because we would never say anything this week about the referee (Ben O’Keeffe) coming from New Zealand and Warren also being a New Zealander.
“It’s a difficult one because Marius and I are close friends and when he was appointed, I made a point of not phoning him before the match because it was such a tough time for him.
“To point out that he is South African does not sit well with me. When New Zealand and Australia played each other in the Rugby Championship last year, they had referees from the host country, that’s the way it is with Covid.”