Erasmus to continue water-carrying role as ‘mindgame’ talk dismissed

South Africa have confirmed their director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, will continue to act as a water carrier on Saturday in the first Test against the British & Irish Lions, before dismissing Warren Gatland’s “mind games” following his claim that the tourists had already dented the Springboks’ egos.

Gatland drew attention to Erasmus’s role given it allows him to enter the pitch and pass messages directly to players – but the Springboks have insisted the 2019 World Cup-winning head coach is only carrying water.

World Rugby’s former head of referees, Alain Rolland, has said the governing body should step in, but its regulations only dictate that head coaches cannot be pitchside, and Erasmus is poised to continue in the role at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.

“Rassie will be running the water again tomorrow,” the South Africa assistant coach, Mzwandile Stick, said. “That is his role now in the team, to assist Jacques Nienaber as head coach. He will be there and he will be running around, bringing water on to the field to the players. We as Springbok rugby are happy with that.”

Responding to Gatland’s suggestion that the Springboks’ egos have been bruised because the Lions negated their set-piece dominance in the narrow defeat by South Africa A last week, Stick said: “They’ve dented our ego? We were happy as a Springbok team. Once again, the most important stat from that game was the final score. We won the game so I’m not too sure what it is that they dented.

“I’m not going to fall into the trap of playing mind games. I’m not a mind games person. The game is going to be played within the four lines. If he is talking about egos, he doesn’t really know much about us as South Africans. Let’s wait and see after the game. Hopefully we can give people a good show of rugby. When it comes to the ego, we’ll see the egos between the four lines.”

Stick also addressed the TMO controversy in which the Lions reacted with fury after the South African Marius Jonker was appointed to the role following the withdrawal of the New Zealander Brendon Pickerill. Gatland is understood to be raging at the decision by World Rugby to appoint Jonker with the Lions assistant coach, Robin McBryde, questioning why there was no “Plan B”.

Stick said: “As a Springbok team, we don’t appoint the officials; that’s a job for World Rugby so I won’t go deep into that and say we are happy or unhappy with the officials because it’s not in our hands. One thing I know for sure is that those guys are all professional and all respect that job. To us, it doesn’t affect us, the main thing is focusing on how we are going to play the game. If the [Lions] have got a problem with that, they can go and have a chat with World Rugby regarding that.”

Meanwhile, the Springboks captain, Siya Kolisi, is confident he will not be off the pace, having been one of the South Africa players forced to isolate after testing positive for Covid-19. Kolisi was only passed fit to play on Monday having undergone heart and lung tests as part of the Covid-19 return-to-play protocols.

“It was tough having tested positive for Covid,” he said. “I had to isolate but the communication with the team was excellent. I was following everything online. I came back and did all the tests and when I came into training it was all good. I was fortunate enough to have no symptoms.”