After the Lions travelled all the way from Johannesburg to Christchurch to play the Crusaders in this year's Super Rugby final, coach Swys de Bruin sat in his team's central city hotel and said how honoured he and his team were to be there.

It was lunchtime and he and his players had only just woken – an attempt to shrug off jetlag – and it was a blessing, de Bruin said, to play the champion Crusaders, a team with such a rich winning history in the competition. It wasn't contrived, rather, it appeared to be genuine respect.

A few days later his men went out and played with courage and incredible resilience but eventually lost – succumbed to the inevitable, many would say – 37-18, but they were in the fight for far longer than many would have predicted.

When All Blacks coach Steve Hansen released his Rugby Championship squad to the media he announced that the Wallabies were the favourites to beat his side in the first Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney last month. When pressed on it given the All Blacks' domination of the Bledisloe Cup since 2003, he insisted it was because Australia had won the last time the sides had met, and that they had improved in the interim.


The point of this is that every top-level rugby coach sends messages to their teams through the media, many of which are the exact opposite to what they will tell their players in person.

Presumably de Bruin wanted to lower expectations in Christchurch, and to some extent at home, before priming his team to turn on the heat, while Hansen would have wanted to keep his players grounded 12 months after his side torched the Wallabies in an extraordinary first half at the same venue.

Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus, however, has taken the old tactic several steps further when saying he is in danger of being sacked should his side lose to the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday.

"Probably just for me to survive it's very important [that we win]. But that's totally beside the point, for me to survive," Erasmus said.

He is in the first year of a six-year contract. He also brought up the issue unprompted.

It's unusual on just about every level and it's difficult to see what he gains from it other than hope his players respect him so much they will reach hitherto untapped levels of motivation and performance in order to protect him.

"Everyone - every coach, every management team - is trying to find the right way to approach a week and clearly it's an approach they feel probably gets their boys in the right state of mind that the South African team needs to be in," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said.

"What we do know is I've never had an easy game against them. It's never been anything but a hundred per cent physical and brutal and I can't see any difference based on what we've heard."


"We know they're a very good team. We saw them play in June and beat a good England team 2-1 and so we know they can play and they've shown some good stuff in the Rugby Championship and they've had a couple of losses in an away game," said Foster.

"So, yeah, we know they're going to be hungry. That's a given."

It could be that Erasmus' comments were aimed more at the South Africa Rugby Union than his players. He is contracted through two World Cups and wants his employers to take a long-term view. That was backed up a day later by assistant coach Matt Proudfoot.

In making it all about himself (but denying it is), maybe Erasmus is attempting to take pressure off his players, who have lost two tests in a row to Argentina and Australia.

It's odd, though, and it is understood to have raised one or two eyebrows among the few South African journalists travelling with the team. A win or a good performance from the Boks at Westpac Stadium might justify Erasmus' approach, but it's a card he can probably play only once. And a loss will just put more scrutiny on him and his future.