CAPE TOWN – Former loose forward Rassie Erasmus is the new Springbok coach.
In one of the worst-kept secrets in South African rugby, Erasmus replaces Allister Coetzee, who departed from the position in January after a tumultuous 22-month period in charge of the national team.
Erasmus, who was appointed as the director of rugby at the SA Rugby Union late last year – after being lured back from Irish club Munster – has unbelievably been handed a six-year contract until the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France!
But how did he arrive at this point following his playing career?
The 45-year-old Erasmus first made his name as a coach for the Free State Cheetahs soon after retiring from playing, winning the Currie Cup in 2005 and sharing the title with the Blue Bulls in 2006.
That is when he resorted to being perched on the roof of Free State Stadium, using disco lights and different colourful cards to instruct his players on what to do in specific situations on the field – earning the stage name ‘DJ Rassie’.
He hasn’t achieved silverware since, though, despite being regarded by some as a top-notch coach.
Erasmus led the Cheetahs back to Super Rugby in 2006, but they ended 10th that season and 11th in 2007 – winning just nine matches out of 26.
After a brief stint as a Springbok technical advisor to Jake White in the build-up to the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Erasmus set sail for Cape Town before the tournament to become the “senior professional coach” at Western Province, which saw him handle the Stormers in Super Rugby and act as a de facto director of rugby for the rest of the year, with Allister Coetzee as the WP head coach.
The Stormers just missed out on the Super Rugby semi-finals in 2008, ending fifth on the log, but things went pear-shaped in 2009 as the Cape side slumped to 10th position.
In late 2009, WP Rugby announced that Coetzee would take over from Erasmus as Stormers head coach, with the latter working as a director of rugby “responsible for team strategy, tactics and player recruitment”.
The Cape side went on to reach the 2010 Super Rugby final and 2011 semi-final under Coetzee, with Erasmus even resorting to coaching the WP under-21 side in 2010.
He was then roped in as a Springbok technical advisor for the 2011 Test season and the World Cup by Peter de Villiers.
Erasmus left WP Rugby in January 2012 and in April, he was appointed as the first general manager for high performance at SA Rugby.
It was regarded as a sort of director of rugby, with hopes that Erasmus would play some role in helping the Boks under then-new coach Heyneke Meyer.
He was supposed to “be involved with the Springboks while they are in camp”, but his mandate was to “establish high performance programmes and support systems for Saru’s other national teams (including the Springbok Sevens, Springbok Women and SA Under-20 teams).
BREAKING! Rassie Erasmus will spearhead a streamlined but experienced Springbok management team until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup and will combine his Springbok coaching duties with his current role as Director of Rugby at SA Rugby. pic.twitter.com/rMCc7dPPL5
“Erasmus’ focus is on creating a blueprint to produce consistently winning South African teams from junior to senior level, for Saru’s men’s, women’s and Sevens teams.”
SA Rugby called Erasmus’ team the “Mobi-Unit”, where the likes of defence guru Jacques Nienaber, kicking specialist Louis Koen and scrum coach Pieter de Villiers would go around to all the national teams and even Super Rugby outfits when required.
But what exactly Erasmus was supposed to achieve was never quite clear, and upon the appointment of Coetzee as Springbok coach in 2016, he left after the Irish series to join Munster.
It was rumoured that Erasmus was upset that he was overlooked for the Bok job for Coetzee, but matters turned full circle last November when Erasmus returned to Cape Town as the national director of rugby – and reportedly to become Coetzee’s new boss.
The former Bok coach said as much in an explosive letter to SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux a few weeks ago, in which he spoke about the “indignity” of having to report to Erasmus from 2018 onwards if he were to continue in the job as a “ceremonial coach”.
Now with Coetzee gone, Erasmus is the main man.
The biggest shortcomings during his tenure as Stormers coach was his conservatism in selection and game plan, as well as his reclusive nature.
But now with the spotlight of South African rugby shining brighter than ever on him, only time will tell if the man from Despatch in the Eastern Cape will “raise the roof” at the Springboks…