Cape Town – Rassie Erasmus will furiously be wrestling his
often reclusive, media-shy and “please don’t obstruct my pathway” instincts at
the same time if he is seriously considering rumoured overtures for the
Springbok head coaching job, much against expectation at the outset of the
Simultaneously, though, the more the public hears of an
apparently growing tide of disenchantment with Allister Coetzee in the
corridors of South African Rugby Union power, the more the body will feel
pressured to take the brutal step – including a significant financial toll – of
terminating the incumbent’s services after a near-desperate 2016 in charge.
With the rumour-mill suddenly abuzz over the last few days,
the great majority of diehard Bok enthusiasts will only be that bit more
disappointed or downright irked, frankly, if the status quo instead prevails
and Coetzee duly goes back to the whiteboard to begin planning for the first
challenge of the international year in June – three home Tests against France.
There was so little to clutch to as a beacon for any
optimism after the most featureless, wishy-washy and statistically bankrupt of
campaigns last year that “someone else” – not even necessarily Erasmus – would
be deemed manna from heaven in many circles.
Inertia will NOT be the average Bok supporter’s best friend
after the annus horribilis; SARU must
Still, the dramatic rise of the name of Johan Erasmus, 44,
as supposed front-line, highly desirable candidate in the mounting speculation
over upheaval in the Bok hot seat is not without its elements of significant surprise.
His name, after all, has been linked with the job, almost to
the point of tediousness, on several occasions before … even stretching back to
a bumpy passage in the now-distant tenure of RWC 2007 mastermind Jake White,
who has since been succeeded by all of Peter de Villiers, Heyneke Meyer and now
At the time, former Test flank Erasmus was an unusually
youthful, quirky, innovative coach of the Cheetahs, having guided the
less-than-superpower union to Currie Cup-winning success in 2005 and (shared)
But since then, Erasmus has clearly preferred – and
generally revelled in – positions where “directorship” has been a bigger
feature of his responsibilities and passions, such as in a tenure of several
years with the Stormers/WP at Newlands and currently at top Irish outfit
In short, the technically- and organisationally-minded
Erasmus is immeasurably more at ease in berths that do not require a major
emphasis on the public relations and media-related side of things.
You might argue that the same applied in his playing days:
while he so often seemed a good candidate for the Bok captaincy – there is
nothing especially charmless or uncomfortable about his public image -- he only
ever performed the duty once.
As Nick Mallett recalls in Gavin Rich’s book The Poisoned Chalice on post-isolation
Bok coaches, he tried to coax Erasmus into leadership of the RWC 1999
Springboks after his controversial decision to axe Gary Teichmann: “I offered
(it) to Rassie. He was really my only choice as captain. I never imagined he
would turn it down. But he did, and I never really had an alternative.”
(Eventually Joost van der Westhuizen was Mallett’s slightly reluctant Plan B.)
There is a single-mindedness and unpredictability to Erasmus
that makes him – and sometimes his actions -- fairly tricky to fathom.
Still, of past Bok players of the modern era, perhaps only
someone like Victor Matfield, with his devoted study of the finer aspects of
lineout play, comes even close to matching Erasmus for painstaking, obsessive
analysis – aided by constantly-evolving technology – in the game.
Erasmus is certainly not afraid to don the “tracksuit”, but
he seems so much more averse than most coaches to wearing it all the time; he
likes to devote equally (or even more?) generous portions of his rugby
existence to his studious bunker, as it were.
That way, he also deftly dodges a few of the “political”
challenges that accompany coaching, particularly in the unique South African
Anyone who thinks that particular prong to the overall task
would lessen during a possible Erasmus tenure as Springbok coach is being
optimistic in the extreme, of course.
Though an engaging and perfectly relaxed personality when he
does -- albeit traditionally infrequently -- put on a more public face, it was
perhaps instructive that when he poured some cold water on the Bok rumours
earlier this week, it was done through his long-time lawyer and namesake
Not too many rugby personalities are in the habit of dealing
with the press through their attorneys, when you think about it, and Erasmus
has done this before, even if his distant current base on the Emerald Isle
naturally makes it difficult for him to communicate too openly or personally
with SA scribes at present.
Given his unusually clandestine tendencies at times, I
dubbed Erasmus, as long ago as 2012, South Africa’s “national man of mystery”
in rugby and little has happened subsequently to make me change my view … even
if that observation should not be interpreted too readily as criticism, either.
You have to respect people for who they are.
If he did become head coach, South Africa would be acquiring
a brilliant mind and quite supremely industrious employee.
But the public and political pressures of this particular
post … his long-time historical aversion to that side of things worries me.
It is sure to be making him fret him, too.
Rassie Erasmus as new Bok coach? My advice would be to believe
it only when he is rolled out for an introductory media conference.
I still fancy it as a long shot, somehow.
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