JOHANNESBURG - I will be honest: I am yet to be totally convinced by the Rassie Erasmus revolution. It seems an extremely unpopular opinion, with evidently only a smattering of like-minded individuals sharing this outlook amongst a sea of overwhelming optimism for the new Springbok mentor.
For sure, Erasmus has brought together a bevy of the brightest rugby minds South Africa has to offer in an effort to make the Boks great again. No doubt he has strung together a list of inspirational quotes, saying the right things at the right time, talking the talk that a weary Bok support base wants and needs to hear.
No argument here that he has mostly made the right calls regarding player selection and has expressed a plan of action that looks towards building a foundation that could be beneficial to South African rugby in the future, even beyond next year’s Rugby World Cup. And yet, there is still doubt that gnaws at the back of my consciousness.
Call me a pessimist, if you so wish, but I think we need much more evidence from him and his Boks before this angst will dissipate into first hopefulness and then confidence. Luckily, the upcoming Rugby Championship could go a long way in alleviating those fears and getting the smidgen of doubters that remain on board the Erasmus movement.
The Springboks’ recent record in the tournament has been nothing short of atrocious, and that is perhaps a kindness, one which cannot be afforded to Erasmus and Co, simply because the South African rugby public are tired of abject performances and losing more than winning.
Since the last World Cup in 2015, the Boks - then under Allister Coetzee, played 12 matches, winning only four. Last year they failed to beat an equally struggling Australia (the Boks drew both their games against the Wallabies) only overcoming a poor Argentina home and away. Their away match to the All Blacks was an utter disaster, a 57-0 thrashing, while their home encounter against the world champions was a spirited 25-24 loss - hailed back then as the turning point in Coetzee’s reign.
It wasn’t, unless that turning point could be defined as a downward slope ending in a deadly precipice. This season has seen a similar build-up to the Championship as under Coetzee in 2016 and last year - if we ignore the once off Test loss against Wales earlier this year.
Otherwise, like Erasmus, who beat England in his opening series, the former Coetzee also had Inbound Test Series victories against Ireland (2016) and France (2017). Unlike Erasmus, Coetzee did not enjoy the backing and support that the current Bok mentor now enjoys, despite a similar trajectory.
This is what has me perhaps so uneasy and perplexed - the dichotomy between the level of favour both men have received despite their interchangeable results in their first few months in charge. To put it bluntly, we’ve been here before, we’ve experienced the same joy and relief of victory only for that feeling of goodwill to devolve into feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Admittedly, Erasmus deserves his chance and our support in the coming months but it must be weighted with tangible success on the field - irrespective of the brave and meaningful talk off of it. A good start, and an objective that would begin to put these fears to rest, is to at least win all our home games - whether handsomely or by the tiniest of margins.
That means beating Argentina tomorrow in Durban and then Australia in PE at the end of the month, followed by another victory a week later against New Zealand at Loftus. At least if that happens, one can argue there has been progression, a facet absent during Coetzee’s tenure. Perhaps then, we can all get on-board with Erasmus.