COMMENT: Uniting South Africa means more than the Springboks winning the Rugby World Cup for Rassie Erasmus

Rassie Erasmus, Director of Rugby during the 2023 Rugby World Cup South Africa Arrival at the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg

Springbok Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus is a complicated individual with a mask that the world sees and loathes, is the side that is full of bluster and bravado. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Nov 1, 2023


There are two Rassies.

The first, the mask that the world sees and loathes, is the Rassie Erasmus that is full of bluster and bravado.

It is the bulldog, the terrier with a bone; the relentless force that picks fights with New Zealand journalists by posting sheep emoticons; the rugby man that compiles 62-minute-long diatribes about poor officiating; the avatar on social media full of wit and sarcasm that questions the establishment, riling them up into an unhappy scrum of frowning faces, arms crossed in anger, bristling with barely contained wrath.

He plays a game of psychological warfare that they attempt to grapple with, only to be undone by their own hubris.

Shrewd tactician

Many follow him but he follows only those that he wishes to disturb and unsettle.

This Rassie is that one uncle, THAT relative, that can embarrass you at the family get together or a cousin’s birthday; or make you want to die mortified when he comes up with some uncouth remark about your chubbyiness and recent diet; and then asks how that new fella or lady in your life is doing, and how if the bedboards have started creaking yet ... in front of your parentals.

He makes you cringe, he makes you guiltily laugh with blushed cheeks crimson from blood, making you slightly giddy and light-headed. You love him for it, but sometimes you have to step in and ask him politely to stop.

This is the Rassie that wins Rugby World Cups and then when the world reacts angrily, chuckles in their faces and moves on with his life.

He doesn’t give a damn about their reactions, or their opinions, or their wild frothing at the mouth – because, who are they? They are not us and they do not know what we know.

Then there is the other Rassie. The one of deep introspection, deeper than the abyss and higher than the firmament.

If you are lucky enough, you will notice him standing there, to the side, in the background, while Springbok captain Siya Kolisi holds aloft the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time – beaming but nondescript in his attendance.

He moves like a spectre through the cacophony, touching a shoulder here with a warm hand of acceptance and understanding; embracing a player there, his chest full of joy, transmitting his delight.

Overcome with emotion

It is the same Rassie that walks into the arrivals terminal of OR Tambo International Airport heaving with Bok supporters, soaks it all in, and becomes flushed with emotion, tears overtaking him.

He walks looking up at the top tier, then the second, stopping only for the briefest of moments to acknowledge those who have made their way to celebrate with the Boks.

His players try to pawn ‘Bill’ onto him so that he might have an instance of holding the silverware while the crowd calls out his name in ecstasy, but instead, he looks about desperately trying to pawn the trophy off to someone else, perhaps Mzwandile Stick, or Jesse Kriel, Frans Malherbe, maybe Vincent Koch or Kwagga Smith.

It is Rassie at his most magnanimous and a true reflection of what he is and why he works so hard for South Africa.

That moment, when he and the Springboks landed in Johannesburg on a cold, dreary and rainy Tuesday morning, is what he lives for, what all his toil and great labours have been for.

Winning the World Cup and being champions is a secondary concern.

It is the press of South Africans coming together that means infinitely more to him.

* The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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