No excuses for Rassie in toughest job in rugby

2018-03-04 06:00
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - Thanks to a slight wardrobe mix-up, there was something fitting about Rassie Erasmus conducting his first press conference as Springbok coach in a borrowed jacket this week.

READ: Juggling two jobs is light work for Rassie

Few things in South African life are as temporary as the Springbok coaching job, and as the 14th man to take on the responsibility in the 26 years since readmission, the studious Erasmus should be all too aware of that.

A lasting anecdote that will forever remind me how fleeting life as a Bok coach can be is from as far back as 2001, when an irate Harry Viljoen tore a strip off me in a hotel lift in London about something I wrote.

When I told my then boss about the encounter, he said: “Tell Harry that this time next year, you’ll still be here and he won’t.”

Sure enough, Viljoen resigned a month later.

Theoretically, Erasmus doesn’t have to worry about job security for the next little while - SA Rugby gave him a six-year contract in a position in which the average stay has been two years.

It has also sweetened the pot by keeping him on as director of rugby for the duration of that period, an unprecedented move that has drawn the ire of many.

Forget that it appears there was never a thought given to hiring another head coach to replace his predecessor Allister Coetzee, Erasmus’ own admission that he and his assistant coaches have been working with the Super Rugby franchises since November suggested a self-fulfilling prophecy from the day he was lured back from Ireland.

And the decision to give him the security of six years in charge has, depending on who one speaks to, been seen as either a triumph of SA Rugby finally planning ahead or Erasmus having had them over a barrel at negotiation time (not that the powers that be needed to have their rubber arm twisted much).

Be that as it may, the 45-year-old is now the Springbok coach and the first impressions at the easiest part of being in that position - the maiden press conference - were good. He may have spoken a little too fast due to the nerves, but when it came to talking rugby, he made a lot of sense.

His often repeated phrases are “alignment” (with reference to structures and thinking) and “IP” (intellectual property), and he starts most answers with: “It would be stupid to ...” - a hint at a reluctance to reinvent the wheel.

But the tricky part of being the most powerful man in South African rugby comes from the responsibility he will have to bear.

Whatever his political inclination, Erasmus will find himself accountable to a white minority that likes its teams mostly white; a black majority still baying for apposite representation; and a rugby business floundering in the wake of poor performances by its marquee team.

A possible clue to how he may deal with his personal twin impostors, as it were, lies in what he said he looked for in a captain - he said he wasn’t interested in a captain who spoke about uniting our divided country.

Rather, he wanted a captain who squeezed performances out of himself and his team to consistently win, which would happily result in said united country.

Erasmus, who used to have a computer installed in his room on tour as a Springbok flanker so he could help the coaching team analyse the opposition, also dispelled the notion that he is happier tinkering with disco lights on top of a stadium roof than being a hands-on coach.

He said it was a reputation bestowed upon him by others, but being Bok coach - especially over six years - can wear one down. One such way is the post- match conference, where not only is the same question asked in various ways, said inquisitors also demand that it be answered in English and Afrikaans.

While he showed the requisite patience this week, it’s another thing doing it after your team has just made a handful of defeat from the jaws of victory - as was the case in 2008 when the Stormers lost to the Bulls at Loftus.

Whether Erasmus can successfully juggle his many responsibilities remains to be seen, but he has been given the influence, trust, support and time to do it. Hell, even the borrowed jacket fitted quite nicely.

Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

Read more on:    sa rugby  |  springboks  |  rassie erasmus  |  rugby

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