Rassie: Only seeing is believing

2017-01-24 12:54
Rassie Erasmus (Getty)

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 year.

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 know this.

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 Coetzee.

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) 2006.

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 Munster.

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 environment.

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 Frikkie Erasmus.

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.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rassie erasmus  |  rugby

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