CAPE TOWN – Finally a Springbok team that talks to a post-1994 South Africa.
Finally a post-1994 South African society that is speaking to the Springbok team.
For South African Rugby Union president Mark Alexander, there is no escape about the sport’s failure to transform the game professionally since the 1994 birth of democracy.
Finally, he says, there is light to transformation, integrity in the application of transforming the sport, and a future that speaks to the demographic of the country.
“South African Rugby was at its lowest at the end of 2016. SA Rugby in general was not a reflection of transformation or excellence. The public and investors in the sport had lost faith. It needed the most dramatic of introspection and then action,” says Alexander.
“It was a case of transform, get it right or there would be no future for the game in South Africa.
“We did six national roadshows to engage with 480 chief executives and directors in South Africa. We needed to tell our story of how we got it wrong, and how we intended to right the wrongs. We needed to front the rugby public and all South Africans.”
Rassie Erasmus’ return to South Africa after 18 months as Munster’s director of rugby was paramount to the on-field transformation and also the all-round improvements of the respective South African national teams.
Erasmus, pre-Munster, was South Africa’s national director of rugby.
However, he had no input to the Springboks or control of the Springboks.
“The plan was always to bring him back as director of rugby,” says Alexander. “The difference this time would be that his portfolio would include the Springboks.”
Erasmus has since also expanded his portfolio to coaching the Springboks, and in his first season, his Springboks have beaten the All Blacks, England and Australia.
He has also picked, on average, more black players in his starting XV and match-23s than any of his predecessors.
Alexander insists he, in his time at Saru, has never experienced a Springbok coach more committed to transformation or more understanding of how Springbok rugby has to mirror South African society.
Alexander says Erasmus’ vision focused on the relevance of Springbok and South African rugby in a 2030 South African society.
He told the national executive there would be no quick fix. Players had to be identified, depth in positions had to be built and there had to be sustainability.
Erasmus wanted to contribute to a healthier South African rugby environment, and he believed that the Springboks be among the world’s best teams while transforming.
“He was clear that the Springboks could transform and win. He told the executive there was enough talent in South Africa to beat the All Blacks – and that winning against New Zealand had to be the benchmark.”
Erasmus’ Boks beat England in a home series, beat Australia at home and inflicted just the second defeat on the All Blacks in New Zealand in the last 58 Test matches played in that country.
And he did so with a match-23 which spoke to all South Africans.
“The Springboks are barking like a big dog again,” says Alexander. “The coach (Erasmus) is responsible for that bark. He is building a squad that plays for each other and which represents households all over South Africa.
“He is building a squad with excellence, work ethic and enjoyment. He is also building a squad which beats the perception that the Springboks could never transform and beat the best teams in the world.”