Johannesburg - On Monday, after making possibly the longest goodbye in history to Munster over the course of this calendar year, Rassie Erasmus finally slipped back into the SA Rugby offices to take up his new role as Director of Rugby.
It didn’t take long for the PR machine of a rugby media clearly fed up with Allister Coetzee’s half-pregnant approach to coaching the Springboks to stir into action. Erasmus’ role is supposed to be an office bound one, but there’s an obvious appetite from the rugby public for him to roll up his sleeves and be pitch side.
Cart before the horse
By the looks of it many are happy to ignore the job description and see Erasmus as Coetzee’s direct replacement after an abysmal record by the latter as Bok coach – played 22 and won just 10 before Saturday's game against Italy – in what would be SA Rugby’s Christmas gift to its public.
The fact that a hands-on Director of Rugby has a precedent in South Africa (Jake White at the Sharks and now John Mitchell at the Bulls) has made this switcheroo entirely makeable in many a fed up Springbok fan’s mind.
But as usual, we’re putting the cart before the horse and done what South African rugby people always do: nominate one person to be the Messiah that will save the Springboks.
Where we’re getting ahead of ourselves is that our rugby actually needs a director of rugby as much as it needs a Springbok coach, new or otherwise. The lack of director of rugby – after Erasmus quit SA in a supposed huff after not getting the Bok coaching job – was as massively responsible for the carnage that was the Boks’ record last year (played 12, lost eight).
Too often last year Coetzee found himself distracted by putting a national strategy in place instead of coaching an injury ravaged team made weaker by the talent drain to European and Japanese club sides.
From his disco light days at the Cheetahs to the rave reports in Ireland, Erasmus has always been touted as a rugby man whose mind has never seen the inside of a box and was adept at putting structures for success in place.
With South African rugby battling dwindling financial resources, coaching structures which don’t empower coaches and a chronic talent drain, quite what the point is of appointing Erasmus as the alternative thinker to wrap his head around those puzzles and limiting him to Bok head coach doesn’t make sense.
Also, the last time I dealt with Erasmus as a head coach he didn’t strike me as someone who enjoyed fronting up to the media scrum, and that was when his teams were winning. I remember him coming close to a meltdown at a post-match conference at Loftus Versfeld in 2008 because a radio reporter asked him to repeat an answer he gave in Afrikaans in English.
If I’ve learnt anything about covering the Boks it is that it is a coaching job that has turned many a sane, confident man into a shuffling wreck. Whether the thin-skinned Erasmus is up for the Chinese water torture that is managing the job’s moving parts with his low tolerance for public scrutiny remains to be seen.
Before it is seen as such, this is not a bid to defend Coetzee’s tenure as Bok coach because after two years of not putting his stamp on his team he deserves whatever is coming his way. Going forward the key thing is putting the right people in the right places; the rest is immaterial.
More importantly, isn’t it time we shelved the stupid idea that one person is going to singlehandedly save SA rugby? Looking at some of the stuff I read the past few days one could have sworn Erasmus was going to grain feed the new breed of Springboks to conquer the world himself.
Many a coach has been seen as such a Messiah – Andre Markgraaff, Carel du Plessis, Harry Viljoen, Heyneke Meyer, name your pick – but at the end of the day their tenures only proved that it’ll take the whole rugby village to turn this baby around.
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