Cape Town – His status probably remains a lot more assured than his bumpy record suggests.
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Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is getting – and arguably deserves at this point – reasonable sympathy for what he is patiently trying to achieve in his maiden year in charge of the national team.
Now well less than a year to the 2019 World Cup, that’s simply another reason why his job ought to be pretty secure.
Yet the stark fact remains that, through Saturday’s frustrating, controversy-stained 12-11 reverse to England at Twickenham, he is now only one further defeat (if it happens against France next weekend) from slipping to a win percentage that would dip below the overall one of his much-maligned predecessor Allister Coetzee.
During “Toetie’s” two tempestuous years, the Boks won 11 of 25 Tests, leaving him with a 44 percent win record when his tenure ended.
Due to the surrender of the Twickenham nail-biter, which the Boks had governed for large periods, Erasmus has dipped into negative territory statistically with five victories from 11 matches (45.45 percent, a short head in front of Coetzee’s final figure).
But should South Africa come a cropper again in Paris – for five out of 12 in 2018 with two still to play - his record would recede further to 41.66 percent.
He will know only too well that anything below 50 percent over a meaningful period is certainly considered unpalatable by the majority of fans of the two-time World Cup winners; only four of the 12 prior coaches in the post-isolation era (John Williams, Ian McIntosh, Carel du Plessis and Coetzee) suffered that fate.
Kitch Christie had a 100 percent record in his relatively short but famous stint in charge, Nick Mallett boasted 71.05 percent, and both Jake White and Heyneke Meyer were in the high sixties.
On the mitigating side, Erasmus’s first year has already seen more triumphs than Coetzee engineered in his own maiden season, where his record was 4/11.
The incumbent has also not yet presided over any of the true “video nasties” that Coetzee did, like some thumping, record-breaking losses to the All Blacks.
So far, his worst outcome in scoreboard terms has been a 15-point loss to England at rain-swept Newlands in June, and that was a dead-rubber affair after his charges had clinched the series.
Four of the six defeats, including Saturday’s, have been by five points or fewer.
That seems to suggest that his charges are -- lingering warts and all -- drawing closer to a situation where they start winning matches more consistently again.
Although he seemingly stayed largely diplomatic over the “Owen Farrell high tackle” flashpoint in the 83rd minute at Twickenham – even respected English pundits like Stuart Barnes felt the Boks should have had their likely game-swaying penalty – Erasmus will have been quietly kicking himself over the latest outcome.
In short, a lot had gone right for the visitors in the way they dominated key facets of the Test match, and those are at least partly to his great credit.
England should have been dead and buried, or at least somewhere close to it, by the halftime mark but were kept in the contest by a string of avoidable errors that released the pressure valve … and gave them a second wind of conviction on their illustrious home pitch after the break.
The follow-up encounter against the currently eighth-ranked French on Saturday should – repeat, should – see a smarting Bok side, hell-bent on getting their four-match tour back on track quickly and wishing to simultaneously confirm their quality.
South Africa have won all of the last six bilateral encounters, including each of the last two on French soil, and actually sport a fractionally better away win record historically than home against these foes.
If they do slip up again, many of the stirring gains achieved over the course of two enthralling, educative tussles with the world-leading New Zealanders recently will fade fairly dramatically in the minds of less patient Bok supporters.
*Injured Eben Etzebeth apart, Erasmus will at least have a broader pool of players to choose from this week, as most of his overseas-based squad members should be available for selection as the Paris Test falls within the international window period.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing