Rassie Erasmus is being equipped with all the desired tools to execute a quick turnaround plan for the Springboks, but this also has to engender a culture of no excuses during the 2018 season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Erasmus has been involved in the South African rugby system long enough to know that the honeymoon period he has enjoyed since returning home will effectively come to an end in June.
It’s then that public sentiment will begin to be shaped solely by the Boks’ on-field performances and results, with the season kicking off with a one-off Test against Wales on 2 June, before a three-Test series against England gets underway.
Up until this point, Erasmus has been welcomed back to South Africa with open arms. That warm reception says a lot about how highly regarded he is as a coach, but it’s also undoubtedly been aided by the nature of his predecessor’s woeful tenure.
At times during his two-year stint, Allister Coetzee must have regularly felt that he had become public enemy No 1 based on the unrelenting criticism and downright derision that spewed forth from furious fans as the Springboks lurched from one disappointing defeat to another.
This is the merciless landscape of the Bok coaching cauldron, and even though Coetzee was determined to fight for his job, he must be at least somewhat secretly relieved that he is finally out of the furnace.
The fact remains that his failed tenure also served to dramatically lower expectations around a Bok side that has plunged to sixth in the world rankings, while also highlighting the need for the SA Rugby leadership to make some serious changes.
It also helped to lay down the red carpet for Erasmus’ return, and by all accounts, it’s been so far so good for the former Springbok loose forward.
Although Erasmus initially arrived in a capacity as director of rugby, he has since been given total command of the Springboks and handed a six-year contract to lead the team to the 2023 World Cup.
During his time at the Cheetahs, Stormers and Munster, Erasmus always believed in a small and streamlined coaching staff where there aren’t too many voices to cloud the thought process. He has been granted this in trusted allies such as Jacques Nienaber, Pieter de Villiers and Mzwandile Stick.
Erasmus has also been afforded the opportunity to engage closely with the South African Super Rugby franchises, and to conduct an overseas recce to have a first-hand look at England in the Six Nations.
This past weekend, it also emerged that the 30-cap eligibility ruling for overseas-based players will be relaxed if the circumstances demand it, with SA Rugby president Marx Alexander reiterating that they were willing to do everything to support the Boks.
It’s an enviable position, and former Bok coach Jake White highlighted as much in a recent column where he suggested that Erasmus was living in ‘rugby paradise’. Reading between the lines, there were clearly some elements of bitterness, but White made no secret of the fact that he was genuinely jealous.
‘Looking back now, I lost my job as Bok coach because I challenged SA Rugby to allow me to pick my own management team, have the final say on selections, bring back overseas-based players and I asked for a longer contract to build a legacy,’ he wrote.
‘These were things that upset the decision makers and were also the things that [other] former Bok coaches fought for and were denied. In a lot of ways, it’s a sign of real progress that the Bok coach is now getting what he asks for and you have to give SA Rugby credit for making those changes.’
Indeed, it is good to see that plans are being put in place to ensure that the Springboks’ wellbeing becomes the top priority in South African rugby, while Erasmus should be able to focus on his task at hand rather than constantly butting heads with administrators.
Up to this point, the sought-after ingredients have been willingly provided in the search for a recipe for success, but Erasmus has also openly acknowledged that he will be judged purely on results.
In that regard, there can be no excuses. The foundation has been laid, the desired building blocks are in place, and now the Springboks must get their house in order.
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