Johannesburg - A month before his first test as Springboks coach, Johan ‘Rassie’ Erasmus sounds a contented man from a planning perspective. He told Simnikiwe Xabanisa just how.
Now that you’ve had all your alignment camps, what’s your summary of the progress made?
The biggest thing we’ve always moaned about in the past was how the franchise coaches and Springbok coaches couldn’t work together. I had the same thing when I was coach at the Stormers and Peter de Villiers was with the Springboks, so I try to remember what it was like for me when I was a coach at a franchise. But I feel like since we started working together we’ve put in place the same blueprint. So the working together has been the biggest thing to take away for me.
Did any concerns come up?
I wouldn’t say they were concerns. We spoke a lot about mauling techniques, defensive techniques and things like that. Sometimes as the coach you don’t analyse the finer things, so we tried to help with stuff like that. In some stages our defence hasn’t been great, but everyone’s working on it. The things we have done well are definitely how much better the attack and flair of our teams have been.
Last year’s Bok captains, Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth, haven’t played much this year. In the absence of an incumbent, who’s your ideal candidate?
As someone who has been in line for Bok captain, played with Bok captains and coached captains, my answer will probably be a little different. We need to get players to be fully involved. I know it sounds like the old cliché of “everyone has to be a captain in their positions”, but the captaincy role should be a small thing if you get the small things around the captain right. That said, the captaincy is a big talking point in South Africa. I like the way Warren Whiteley leads and his humility, but he hasn’t played much. I like a guy like Siya [Kolisi], who’s soft spoken and leads from the front, but is going through a bad patch form-wise. But neither of them are fit or on form right now, so we might have to go with someone else. Everyone raves about Handre Pollard, but Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies are also doing a lot of leading at the Lions.
The Wales game in the US is an important one for you because it’s your first and you’d like to win it. With England looming the next week, how will you manage the logistics?
The plans are pretty much worked out. A week before that game, all four of our franchises will be playing in the Super Rugby. So we’ll announce a squad, meet on the Sunday, work together until Wednesday, when the guys who will play in the Wales game will leave. The thing is, seven or eight guys will double-up and play both Wales and England.
Having spoken to all the franchises, the Pro 14 teams and overseas-based players, aren’t you worried that some of them will feel like they’ve been led on when they don’t make the squad?
We’ve spoken to about 50 guys, so there’ll be a helluva lot of disappointment. But in the history of our rugby, only about 1 700 people have played for the Boks. So the players understand that in a country of 60 million people, being a Bok is a great honour.
Earlier this year you said our teams’ work under the high ball was a weakness, are you happy with how those work-ons are going?
Even though we’re not getting it right all the time, we’re getting better. If you look at guys like Aphiwe Dyantyi and Sbu Nkosi, they’re trying really hard. The outcomes aren’t always there, but the commitment is.
You’ve had all kinds of advice about how to deal with transformation, are you happy with where it is at franchise level?
For me, the franchise coaches can’t please me and lose their jobs. I’m not saying by playing black players they’ll lose, what I am saying is when I point fingers and criticise about a lack of transformation and other things, our relationship will never grow. I know they’re conscious of it and have their own development plans for players. I may not agree with it, but their necks are on the line. We’re not getting 10 or 11 black players in the squads of 23, but not only are we getting new names coming through, we’re getting great quality players.
The only question is how many minutes of quality rugby they’re getting, but that’s for me to manage.
How are you finding the job?
Two or three years ago I didn’t want to put my name in the hat for the job. I thought around 50-years-old would be a good age to do it, provided I was still good enough to do it. But it’s come early and it’s intense, there’s lots of pressure and it’s going to get tougher. But the nice thing has been working on structures with the other coaches and guys like Neil Powell and Paul Delport, just pulling in the same direction. I know the results are everything, but I’m enjoying it.