Erasmus left to rue missed chances as Springboks shot themselves in the foot again
Owen Farrell’s 81st minute assault on André Esterhuizen at Twickenham on Saturday would have done any thug proud.
Had Farrell’s shoulder crashed into Esterhuizen’s jaw‚ with the most cursory suggestion of a tackling arm applied by the England flyhalf‚ in a dark alley somewhere‚ where it belonged‚ no-one else would have been any the wiser.
But it happened under some of the best floodlights in rugby‚ in front of 80 369 people‚ and with millions more watching worldwide.
And‚ from the hollow moan that mooned around the vast stands after referee Angus Gardner asked for a replay of the incident‚ which unfolded in all its slow motion ugliness on the giant screen‚ the English knew Farrell had lost them the game.
With time up‚ they led 12-11‚ but the penalty that surely had to result was well within Handré Pollard’s range.
Then Gardner did the unthinkable and decided Farrell had not committed what‚ had it happened in Rugby Road just outside the stadium and not on the field‚ would have been grounds for Farrell’s arrest.
Despite plenty of bulletproof evidence to the contrary‚ Springbok replacement winger Esterhuizen had been hit neither too high nor by a shoulder charge.
England were the victors‚ South Africa were left wondering how the hell they had lost a game they had almost won in every respect.
“The only thing that counts is that one point on the scoreboard‚” Rassie Erasmus said in admitting that the match had been “frustrating‚ but it is what it is”.
How bout that alleged tackle‚ Eddie Jones?
“Aw well‚ it’s not for me to adjudicate‚” England’s coach said‚ and who could blame him‚ he had burgled a victory and he was happy with that.
“If it was a shoulder charge the referee would have penalised him‚ and we [would have] had a chance to win the game‚” Erasmus said.
“It was a good tackle — well done.
“I haven’t seen André Esterhuizen being tackled back like that in a while.
“If it was all legal‚ and I haven’t had a good chance to look at the replay‚ then we should start tackling like that.
“It’s obviously very effective‚ and if that’s allowed we should all execute it like that.
“If it was legal we just have to latch on and do it the same way.
“To tackle a guy like André Esterhuizen like that and stop him in his tracks is unbelievable.
“We’ll just have to try and practice it.”
In his playing days‚ Erasmus earned a reputation as a devilishly clever loose forward who was a master at being in exactly the wrong place at just the right time to upend the opposition’s plans‚ and emerge smiling like the sweetest innocent.
His comments on Farrell’s moment of savagery‚ delivered with the same smile‚ prove he hasn’t changed a bit‚ and they mean France should prepare themselves to have to deal with unusually ferocious tackling in Paris on Saturday.
Not that Farrell and Gardner were the only reasons South Africa came second on Saturday.
“There were a lot of things we did well and things we didn’t do well — finishing our opportunities and our discipline‚” Erasmus said.
The South Africans were all over their opponents‚ particularly in a first half in which England did not visit their 22 at all.
But they threw it all away with too many knock-ons‚ inaccurate lineout throws and two missed penalties.
And it seems they will have to recover from this loss without lock Eben Etzebeth‚ who limped off heavily in the 42nd minute with what Erasmus diagnosed unofficially as a “foot or ankle problem”.
“Eben looks pretty bad‚” Erasmus said.
“He’ll‚ I think‚ definitely be out for next week and maybe for this tour. The way he’s walking it doesn’t look great.”
Pity. Who‚ besides South Africa’s remaining opponents on this tour‚ wouldn’t want to see Etzebeth flying‚ legally‚ into head-high shoulder charges?