Cape Town - New Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus believes that it won’t take long for the national team to rise back up to the top of the world rankings.
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Erasmus, who doubles as the national director of rugby, faced up to his first media conference since taking over as Bok coach at theSuperSport studios in Randburg on Thursday, and said that while the world rankings were an accurate reflection of how far the Boks have fallen, he felt the remedy could be applied quickly.
“I firmly believe we have both the players and the coaching IP to win the World Cup (in Japan next year),” said Erasmus.
“The current world rankings do tell a story and we have slipped. We’ve been down to No 7 and have been hovering near No 5 or lower for a while. But the big thing is that it is in our hands. We as South Africans do not just roll over and accept our lot, we get stuck in and correct things.
“What I can tell you is that while the media view may be different and differ with my view, the players on the ground firmly believe we can get quickly back to No 1 or No 2 in the world. We have the resources and players to do it.”
The appointment of Erasmus was a poorly kept secret, and the die was effectively cast in that regard early in December, when he took up his position as director of rugby after 18 months away successfully guiding the Irish provincial team, Munster. However, what was a minor surprise was the length of time that Erasmus has been appointed for.
The former Bok captain has been contracted until the 2023 World Cup, a period of six years, which is unprecedented for a Bok coach. It was initially understood that Erasmus would take on the Bok role as a kind of Kitch Christie style “ambulance job” until the 2019 World Cup in Japan and then hand over to another coach to focus on the broader director role. But that is no longer the case.
“I will stay on until 2023 and while it is a big challenge it is one that I believe I can meet. Up until I left for Munster I was responsible for all the teams except the Boks. I worked together with the national age-group coaches and also with the national Sevens coaches. I did a lot of planning towards the Commonwealth Games (win). My job will effectively stay the same, it will just be that the full responsibility for the Boks will be added to what I was doing before.
“We play 14 matches a year and I will spend much of my time with the Boks, but I will still work with the other coaches and teams. The plan is to align everything with the Boks, build a pathway that aligns everything we do at the other levels with the Bok goal.”
Erasmus did do that effectively when he was in charge of rugby at Western Province so he is no stranger to what he envisages doing at a national level.
Erasmus’ first big challenge will be the series against England in June. Eddie Jones’ team will be in the country for three test matches, and there is one logistical challenge in the form of an exhibition test match against Wales in the USA to get through immediately before that series.
“To the outsider it must look like suicide to travel to America to play Wales just a week before our first test against England, but we needed the extra test match as part of our planning for the World Cup,” said Erasmus.
“The extra match gives us 18 games until the World Cup as opposed to 17, and we will need that. Of course we have to win that game, and the bottom line for me remains the same as it is with every Bok coach – if I don’t win then I will be moved out of the job. But we need to be creative both with the planning for the World Cup and the immediate priority of beating England in mind.
“I haven’t finalised plans yet but we are giving it a lot of thought. This might be a chance for us to split resources and use some of the players who are based overseas who will be back in the selection mix in the World Cup year. Use it as a chance to look at them. If we are only travelling back from the US on the Tuesday before the first England test it would be foolish to take one squad of 23 that will play in both games.
“We may try something like having two squads, maybe with bench guys playing in both games but different starting teams.”
Regardless of what he eventually settles on, Erasmus believes the Boks have the beating of England.
“England is the first hurdle and I would say that a series win over them would be sufficient (to say we had enjoyed a good start). England have been playing well but they are definitely beatable. I know some of the players in the Six Nations quite well after coaching over there. Gregor Townsend has a good Scotland team and they have good continuity and they showed us that England can be beaten. I would say we are in with a good chance.”
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