JOHANNESBURG – If, as is widely expected, new South African Rugby Union (Saru) director of rugby Rassie Erasmus takes over from the now-departed Allister Coetzee as Springbok coach, a tough and challenging job awaits.
He will do well to tick the following boxes to ease questions around a possible turnaround strategy…
Will the 30-Test rule, which allows only those players who’ve played in 30 Tests to come into consideration for the national side, still apply under Erasmus?
It was brought in to help stop younger players from moving abroad, but it has done little to halt the migration.
It is a professional era and one wonders if South African rugby isn’t doing more harm to its biggest brand – the Boks – by stopping the coach from picking whoever he wants. The best players, regardless of where they play, should run out for the Boks.
It is known Erasmus is keen to pick a few overseas-based men to give the Boks a greater edge, and here one thinks of Faf de Klerk, Vincent Koch and maybe even Ruan Ackermann, who all play abroad, but haven’t hit the 30-Test mark.
Every coach has his favourites, and when it comes to the man tasked to lead the side, it is imperative that the coach and he gel and work closely together.
Under Coetzee, Adriaan Strauss led the team in 2016, then Warren Whiteley took over in 2017, only to be sidelined with injury, allowing Eben Etzebeth to lead.
But why no Siya Kolisi? He was the natural choice after doing such a terrific job for the Stormers, but will his time come under the next coach?
But, is there a reason to change from Whiteley, if he is fit, or even Etzebeth, who is the current leader?
And what about Duane Vermeulen, who is in France, but believed to be headed to Japan for a short spell? He is believed to be the hot favourite for the role in 2018, but again, why?
Right, we know that head coach Coetzee is no longer involved, and so too lineout and forwards coach Johann van Graan, who left the Bok set-up halfway through last November’s tour of Europe to fill the position vacated by Erasmus at Munster in Ireland.
But what of Matt Proudfoot, Coetzee’s only chosen helper, and the man who specialises in scrum work? He looks set to be replaced by Pieter de Villiers, the former France international and scrum guru.
And then there’s Franco Smith, the most recent backline coach, who was apparently told to move from Bloemfontein to the Cape if he wanted to keep his job.
He is not expected to do so, preferring to remain the Cheetahs’ director of rugby.
Mzwandile Stick, chopped from the team after 2016, looks set for a return, along with Erasmus’ friend and defence specialist Jacques Nienaber, in place of Brendan Venter.
Erasmus – even though still only in the role of director of rugby – has apparently been working hard behind the scenes to put plans in place for the visit by Eddie Jones’ England in June – the first series the Boks will play under new management.
But just what type of game the Boks will dish up under Erasmus and Co is anyone’s guess. Will the focus again shift to a forwards-dominated game plan; will it be more expansive, with little kicking, and who will Erasmus’ coaching team put their faith in to properly execute the plan?
Technically Erasmus is brilliant, but will the plans and styles he puts in place while serving at the Cheetahs and WP (and the Stormers), and most recently Munster, work at international level, and with the players that will be part of his Bok set-up?
In his playing days, Erasmus captained the Boks on just one occasion. It is said he was reluctant to lead the team more, even though several coaches favoured him for the job, because of the pressures involved and because he didn’t like fronting up to the media.
He also preferred a behind-the-scenes role in his coaching days in Cape Town, and even previously at Saru, but if he is to be Bok coach, he will have to step forward as the team’s leader and take the knocks when they come. And they will come.
If he is the man drawing up game plans and doing the coaching and picking the squads and teams, he has to be the one who answers questions around those decisions.
It is widely agreed being the Bok boss is the toughest sports job in the world, and whoever’s in charge will have to be one mighty tough man.