Clive Woodward has insulted the Springboks and the 2019 World Cup winning coach Rassie Erasmus in a war of words the 2021 British & Irish Lions players may not be able to back up, writes Mark Keohane. He has labelled the world champion Boks a one-match wonder.
Woodward, who coached England to the 2003 World Cup title, was a disaster as the Lions coach to New Zealand in 2005. His team got smashed three-nil.
I love Sir Clive’s weekly columns on the Daily Mail, for his opinions, his analysis, his inconsistencies and also the joy he gets in shooting off his mouth, without regard for consequence or consistency in what he is saying.
Woodward is the ultimate 180 degrees flip artist when it comes to aligning his narrative with sentiment, and this week he has taken aim at Erasmus and the Boks from the comfort of the United Kingdom, while the Lions in South Africa will have to bear the brunt of Woodward’s verbal assault on the Boks.
The world champion Springboks have to win the Test to keep the three-Test series alive and Woodward, who just a few weeks ago raved about the potency of the Boks, has now called them a one-match wonder – that one match being the 2019 World Cup final against England. The Boks destroyed England 32-12 to win a third World Cup trophy.
Yet, despite having played just one Test in 21 months and having 26 squad players crocked in the build-up because of Covid infections, the Boks trailed the Lions 19-17 with three minutes to go. This was a Lions team playing their seventh match in the past month and featuring players who had all completed a Six Nations tournament since the last World Cup.
There was little praise for just how remarkable it was that the Boks were within two points of the Lions, that they had two tries disallowed on referral to the TMO and should have played 10 of the last 15 minutes with a one player advantage because of Hamish Watson’s tip tackle on Willie le Roux.
Woodward chose to attack the Boks and typically, after the fact of the Boks losing a Test, declared he has never been convinced of the Boks’s quality. The archives of Woodward’s columns would tell a different story.
But Woodward has only angered the wounded beast that is the beaten Springboks and those Lions players on Saturday are unlikely to be too pleased with a failed Lions coach shouting off his mouth.
This physical showdown on Saturday is going to be insane because this 80 minute war, the origins of which date back to 1899, will be more than a rugby match.
Saturday is about the identity of the Springboks and the country these Springboks represent.
‘I’ve never been wholly convinced as to the world-beating qualities of this South Africa team, even though they are the world champions. Their reputation is built pretty much wholly on their dismantling of a complacent and badly distracted England team, who were shambolically poor in the 2019 World Cup final,’ wrote Woodward.
He described Erasmus as ‘comical’ and wrote that Lions coach Warren Gatland had ‘eaten him’ in the media.
‘Erasmus has had his day as coach, he did a brilliant job fashioning a Boks team in a short time good enough to win the 2019 World Cup. But that was his moment, Nienaber is now in charge.
‘They are friends, they worked together at the Free State, the Stormers and Munster but the dynamic has changed. Nienaber must now be in charge of the team, he is the main man, but on this tour you would never know it.
‘It is clear that Erasmus has started taking over again, he is running around in a tracksuit and donning the water carrier bib even though — as Gatland observed last week — he never seems to dispense any water, nor even carry a bottle! He never forgets his clipboard, though.
‘It looked comical, it was comical, and I am surprised South African Rugby are allowing it to happen.
‘Erasmus is still coaching the team in all but name, but that’s not his job. He needs to butt out.
‘All the pre-match banter is conducted between him and Gatland — and Warren is eating him for breakfast.’
The word from within the Bok camp is that the Bok players on Saturday won’t die wondering and that the tourists will face a team playing for more than rugby pride and a Test series salvation.
Woodward has made it personal and those within the Bok camp have had a read of what he has had to say.
They’ve also seen the memes and the glee with which so many in the United Kingdom have dismissed their ability to restore the balance of the Test series.
Erasmus and Bok coach Nienaber have reverted to six forwards and two backs split on the bench in making three changes to a starting XV than now features 12 of the 15 that started the World Cup final.
The Lions coach Gatland has also made three changes to the starting XV that won the first Test 22-17.
Both coaches announced their match 23s at the earliest opportunity on Tuesday and both camps will take aim at the other for the rest of the week.
You don’t need much upstairs to know the team talk within the Boks this week. You only have to go back to Erasmus’s World Cup final speech, as below. You also only have had to watch the Springbok documentary ‘Chasing the Sun’ to know there will be nothing subtle about this week. It was be as simple as ‘F*****g them UP.
And anyone who has watched any of the Lions tour documentaries will know that there won’t be much science applied to the Lions approach, which will also be about ‘F*****g them UP.’
If you think reading that is crass, go and watch the respective documentaries. They are the definition of crass and brutal … all in the name of winning a rugby game, which tells you that Saturday is a lot more than a rugby game.
A throwback to the brutal 2009 Springboks v Lions series