JOHANNESBURG – It has been interesting to note how many rugby pundits, and fans alike, are predicting a dramatic turn-around in Springbok fortunes now Rassie Erasmus is head coach of the Springboks.
On what grounds they believe this will happen is unknown.
I’ve heard some say the Boks will beat Eddie Jones’ England 3-0, others say 2-1 ... why they think this will happen in June is based on one thing alone; the so-called Erasmus factor.
Now, while the new Bok boss is a good coach and well respected and may, eventually, get the Boks winning regularly again, it might take some time before the turn-around actually happens, if it happens at all.
I don’t want to come across as being negative or pessimistic but the reality is it takes time to build a winning team, a winning culture and a winning habit. The Lions are the perfect example of this.
There was a time when the Lions didn’t do a lot right, but in recent years they’ve done absolutely everything right to turn their fortunes around. And the key ingredient has been consistency and continuity ... something Erasmus doesn’t have much of now.
The appointment some years ago of John Mitchell was a left-field decision by the Lions and while he didn’t last long at the union, he brought into the set-up a different mindset, and no doubt plenty of his ways and thoughts around the game rubbed off on then assistant coach Johan Ackermann.
It then came as quite a surprise when the former Bok lock was named head coach after Mitchell’s departure - with not too many people believing anything special would happen, but how wrong they were. Right there was the first bit of continuity - whether by default or not - and the Lions were able to build on a strong foundation, laid by Mitchell.
When Ackermann left last year, after five years of chipping away and building a winning team, there was a fear the Lions would possibly fall apart. But in possibly the best decision the union could have made, they appointed Swys de Bruin as head coach - because he knew the Lions way, he knew what worked and he knew the players. The players, too, knew him.
Also, the Lions promoted junior coaches who knew De Bruin and the players, in the system and the Super Rugby squad - Joey Mongalo, Philip Lemmer, Neil de Bruin.
It was a smart rugby decision by the Lions, one that too many teams fail to make. Too often when successful coaches move on, the big bosses bring in a new coach, with a big name and reputation from elsewhere. But what does he know about the players, on a personal and professional level, what does he know about the style of play adopted over the recent years, what does he know about the culture of the team?
It is because the Lions backed their senior players, the same core that has been successful for some time now, and the coaches who’re comfortable in the setup that they are again leading the South African Super Rugby charge. The way the Lions are playing and performing in 2018 is really no different to the Lions of 2017, yet they’re quite different in their coaching make-up. That’s the beauty of continuity in player selection and having a head coach who’s been in the system.
The Boks now have to get used to another new-look coaching team headed by Erasmus, selections will change from last year and time is not on their side. It really is another new start for the Boks, rather than continuing from where they left off ... quite unlike the All Blacks who put continuity atop their list of what they need to get right to stay ahead of the pack.
The Boks will, hopefully, rise again, but it may take some time yet for them to get back to winning on a consistent basis.
They first have to take the small steps of building their platform, getting their core in place, and getting the players and coaches on par with each other, on several levels.