Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Cape Town - It would be naïve to suggest the Stormers won’t be effected by the resignation of Rassie Erasmus, but the many supporters who watched a training session in Hermanus on Wednesday would not have left the primary school venue feeling too downcast about their team’s prospects for the coming season.
There was an impressive level of energy and graft as the Stormers players toiled under the hot January sun, their coaches enthusiastically barking our instructions as the serious part of the build-up to the new season begins. The coach directing onfield operations was Allister Coetzee, which is one of the reasons there shouldn’t be too much panic.
While the reasons for Erasmus’ resignation were not just the ones forwarded in the public statements, and Coetzee is understood to be as infuriated with the pressures that were brought to bear on Erasmus and which forced him into resignation as the outgoing Head Professional Coach was, a big effort is being made to ensure the 2012 campaign is not undermined by this early setback.
And one of those who is bending his back to ensure that doesn’t happen is Erasmus himself, which is one of the reasons he has stuck with the Western Province union spin that he is just leaving to further his own career prospects and not going public with the real reasons.
But what the training session, and the press conference which followed it, should have done is issued an indication to those present that there wasn’t that much hubris in the words of Stormers chief executive Rob Wagner when he said he was confident the coaching unit could still be successful without Erasmus. For the reality is that Erasmus was right when he said he has put the right structures in place, and the coaches who worked under him have all grown a great deal in the past few seasons.
None more so than the already capable Coetzee, who until as recently as October was considered a near certainty for the Springbok coaching job to be announced on January 27. The only reason that Coetzee has fallen out of favour was because his WP team lost a Currie Cup semi-final, thus giving fuel to those who argued against him on the basis that he hasn’t won any trophies with WP or the Stormers.
That though misses an important point, which is the extent to which to the Cape team have grown since Erasmus and Coetzee first took charge, a point which unfortunately was also lost on the officials who are understood to have pushed Erasmus out. Heyneke Meyer’s Bulls didn’t meet with immediate success in the Super 12 either, and yet after a few seasons of trying, and losing semifinals, they eventually got it right.
With Erasmus gone you get the feeling that the Stormers have less chance of continuing the building that has been done, but Coetzee is determined that shouldn’t be the case. He deflected all the questions relating to Erasmus and his resignation, and said that it was business as usual and that he was confident about the season ahead.
“This is a settled management team and a settled bunch of players and life must go on. The Rassie issue has been dealt with in the media statements, I want to concentrate instead on the positives that are coming out of this group of players,” said Coetzee.
“Some of the players weren’t quite where we wanted them to be when they came back from the Christmas break but even those guys are close, for the most part we are impressed with the work that has been put in. The conditioning side is now done and now, with six weeks to go to the kick-off of the competition, we start getting down to the technical side.”
Erasmus would already have had a lot of input on that technical side in the pre-season planning that was done in November, so perhaps Coetzee is right - there is no need to panic, and the Stormers, provided they can get the negative beginning to 2012 out of their minds, could yet start the season with a flourish.