RASSIE Erasmus, who masterminded South Africa’s 2019 World Cup success, believes the presence of Gregor Townsend as attack coach alongside five Scottish backs in this summer’s Lions tour squad could be a major headache for his team.

Scrum-half Ali Price, stand-off Finn Russell, outside-centre Chris Harris, winger Duhan van der Merwe and full-back Stuart Hogg will hope to establish themselves in the Test side for the Lions’ three-match series against the Springboks. Gavin Vaughan – a Welshman who has worked with Townsend at Glasgow Warriors then Scotland since 2012 – could also be a major influence on how the team plays as one of four analysts in the set-up.

The other Scots involved will be loose-head prop Rory Sutherland, tight-head prop Zander Fagerson and flanker Hamish Watson. Meanwhile, Steve Tandy, another Welshman in Scotland, is in charge of defence.

Gatland has regularly been accused of playing a one-dimensional brand of rugby – nicknamed ‘Warrenball’ – during his long and distinguished career as a coach, but Erasmus believes the tartan tinge to this squad could mean a shift away from big runners coming hard down narrow channels, towards a more multi-faceted style of attack.

“The way Warren has picked this side, the way he has picked his support staff and his assistant coaches, and the way we he has selected a squad of Scottish backline players with Gregor in there, I think he’s got something up his sleeve,” he said. “I don’t think we are going to see this battle of attrition – grinding it out like the semi-final in the World Cup [when Gatland's Wales lost 16-19 to Erasmus's South Africa] – I think he’s got other plans.

“And with the tour finishing with two Highveld games [in Johannesburg], and the loose-forwards he’s picked, yeah, I think he’s got a few plans.”

Erasmus has now moved upstairs to become Director of Rugby for the South African Rugby Union, but he remains hands-on with the Springbok team working with his long-time friend and understudy Jacques Nienaber, who took over as head coach last January. Not surprisingly, Nienaber agreed with his mentor’s analysis.

“I think he’s selected a well-balanced side,” said the 48-year-old. “At full-back, you can say Stuart Hogg, Elliot Daily, Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, and the others as well like Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit, they are all good under the high ball – Duhan van der Merwe has improved a hell of a lot – so if you look at that side of things, they can go the aerial route.

“But then if you look at the magic of a Finn Russell and Ali Price combination, I think they can literally go coast to coast.”

While the Springboks might be unclear as to exactly what kind of game-plan they should expect from the Lions, one touring player they do know a fair bit about is van der Merwe, who came through the South African system before moving to Europe in 2016, initially spending a season with Montpellier in France, before settling in Edinburgh for four years and qualifying to play for Scotland through the controversial three-year residency rule last summer.

“In 2014, Jacques was high performance manager in South Africa Rugby helping with all the junior Springbok teams, and Duhan was in the team which played in New Zealand [Under-20 World Championship] and lost in the final, so we know him pretty well,” said Erasmus.

“He played SA Schools, he played SA Under-20s and I remember sitting in an office with his dad discussing his future in sevens, and I remember him having trials at the sevens. I’m not sure why he didn’t make that, or whether he wanted to go into the 15-man game, but he’s come the full path in South Africa rugby, and we are not of the mind-set that because he isn’t playing here then he doesn’t deserve to play anywhere else.

“We feel that if a guy goes over there – like CJ Stander or whoever – then good for him, and the way he has played, nobody can argue.

“It is weird, in a way we are proud of him, although obviously when we play against him it is going to be tough.

“We are happy for him, and we know him really well, and he will obviously know most of our guys really well.”