RASSIE ERASMUS is a name synonymous with rat-cunning unpredictability in rugby union.
And if the Waratahs are to beat his Stormers, they know they will have to crack the mindset of the coach before they can break his players.
Erasmus, 35, is one of the great analytical plotters in the game. He also has a penchant for thinking out of the square – a trait that is entertaining to all but his opponents.The Waratahs were reminded of that last year when he coached the Cheetahs who beat them 30-26 at Kimberley after a week of bluff and whispers.
There were the regular sightings of Cheetahs spies at Waratahs training, banter over Erasmus’s use of a colour lighting system to communicate to his players during games, and his age-old love of announcing one team midweek then changing it an hour before deadline.
It is not surprising the Waratahs have learned to be wary of any game involving Erasmus, considering their warm-up was hampered by pre-match parachutists landing in their 22m as they ran drills, followed by a cavalcade of motor bikes – one of which nearly ran into NSW doctor Sharron Flahive – and that during the game the Cheetahs mascot whacked Waratahs physio Stu Pavely.
“Rassie always has some surprises,” Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie said with a smile as he and the Waratahs arrived in Cape Town for the round 13 Super 14 clash at Newlands.
Recently, McKenzie said one of the joys of coaching was the challenge of battling wits each week with a different opposing coach. Against Erasmus, the challenge is right up there.
You can see McKenzie feels a tad smug that he cracked Erasmus’s colour code before Erasmus could use it to any effect in the Waratahs-Cheetahs game last season.
“We went and watched them play [against the Bulls the week before],” McKenzie said. “We knew what they were going to do when we played the Cheetahs. It wasn’t hard to convert.
“I don’t know if he uses the [lights] box any more. He is pretty creative. There is a method in his play but he always has something creative. We have to have our wits about us.”
Neither has McKenzie forgotten how he matched wits with Erasmus over the naming of the team. The NSW coach mirrored his South African counterpart’s tactic by keeping his team under wraps until the last minute.
“We matched him. If he wasn’t going to name his side then we won’t name ours, we [would] name some other side,” McKenzie said.
A year on, McKenzie rates the Stormers very highly, as he should considering they have hauled themselves into finals contention with their 20-10 win over the Brumbies last Saturday.
Both sides have much to play for. The Waratahs want to keep second place on the ladder. The Stormers, who are fourth and two points behind NSW, could overhaul them.
With the Stormers attracting houses of 47,000, NSW can expect a much more ferocious local crowd than what greeted them against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld last Saturday.
“It is sure to be a big crowd,” McKenzie said. “That is going to be one of the hardest things to prepare for, getting the blokes to understand what that is like. It is a very difficult place to hear. I had a couple of games here in the World Cup in 1995, and it’s tough to hear lineout calls … You have to modify your calling process.”
Would McKenzie consider putting his charges through a crash course in sign language?
“We won’t do it,” he said. “We looked at doing it. In baseball they do it all the time.”