Cape Town — The main reason Rassie Erasmus is active on social media is to understand what the players experience from fans and the traditional media, but also to help provide insight into how the Springbok team operates.
The 50-year-old director of rugby at SA Rugby posted a link on his Twitter account on Saturday morning — before the England Test at Twickenham — to the Vimeo video sharing platform, with the caption “Lekka Chat (15min)”, along with a South African flag.
Erasmus had been banned for two Test matches by World Rugby following a series of tweets and videos about decisions made by match officials following the Ireland and France Tests earlier in November, which the South Africans had lost.
He was not allowed to be part of the Bok team’s match-day activities, and could not post anything on social media about match officials and decisions, and was not allowed to address the media either.
But a few days after the Boks’ 27-13 victory over England at Twickenham, Erasmus hosted a live video session on Vimeo, where he spoke about why he was on social media and the impact that various platforms had on the players.
The video session lasted just over 20 minutes, and was attended by over 400 viewers.
“I have seen sometimes a player leaving on a Wednesday morning at around 12 o’clock, from a brilliant Wednesday morning training, and then seeing him on Thursday evening or Friday morning and the player is a totally different person,” Erasmus said.
“Either too much confidence, no confidence or something is really bothering him. In the beginning, I was totally against it — stay off social media, don’t follow it, that kind of thing.
“But then you get to understand that this is here to stay. Social media eventually takes everything and combines it into one platform, where it might be something in a Sunday newspaper, or it might be an article in a daily newspaper or website, or an online edition — but eventually, it ends up on social media.
“So, whatever gets said by a player or coach, when you are the head of a specific team or department, if you don’t know the narrative out there, you would sometimes be surprised by what is going on with this player? Or why is this player so rattled?
“It’s because they read social media. Your opinion actually counts, so when you say something when you are calm or emotional — which is 100% understandable — eventually that gets to the player, and it gets to the coach. And it gets to the team…
“Not in a negative way — I mean, it finds its path eventually to the person you directed it to. So, if we weren’t intact or in sync with what was going on on social media, we would be very tough to — in those 24 hours during the week that we just spend on coaching, video sessions, analysis and those kinds of things…
“We are fighting — not fighting in a negative way. We are competing almost with what is currently the opinion of people, which sometimes is 100% right… Not that I am saying people are wrong.
“But sometimes when you are trying to get a player confident, a goal-kicker or a guy who is making his debut, or a person who feels he must be in the team, or a player who has been dropped …
“Then what happens in social media is that if you are not on top of that …
“So, I decided to join it, just to find out why are players leaving on Wednesday afternoon, and you see them on a Thursday evening and they are just either walking on water — and some guys are level-headed, where it doesn’t influence them.
“But with others, you start to see ‘But hell, there is a hell of a story going out there’.”
The former loose forward went on to speak about the Boks’ 2019 World Cup slogan, #StrongerTogether, which encapsulated the team, media and supporters working together to inform each other about what is going on within the team.
Erasmus spelled out a typical Bok Test week, including when they train and enjoy off days, as well as when the match 23 gets selected.
But then he explained how he had been totally against the media in general, let alone social media.
“I was always totally against social media — against media at all. I was at one stage very naïve. I believed that the media was the enemy… and that why should there be media?
“That was when I was just a young coach, coming into the game. But then I made that connection that if you don’t give media access, how would the supporter know what happened during the week?
“And if you had a bad media person who doesn’t correctly report, the fan does get a connectivity, an understanding or a perception about the team, and he can only judge them on their performance on Saturday… which is actually the most important (thing).
“But then I learnt that we can’t live without media. They have to be there, they have to inform the fans, and the fans have to get that insight.
“Then social media came, and I was totally 100% against it. I told the players when I started coaching in 2004: Don’t watch it, don’t follow it. Why do you listen to what people are saying?
“A guy is sitting in a pub and he’s tweeting something, and now you are listening to him… You are bothered by that and they are not bothered by you. It became all the more complex and different social media channels.
“And it became so advanced that you can tell players don’t follow it, but their mother or sister would follow it, and eventually that will get to the team or the player or management member. They will eventually be influenced by that.
“So, why would I tell this long story? It’s because I am on social media, and I was a person who said you shouldn’t be on social media.
“There are reasons why we do things, and I hope I explained most of that. Maybe we will do this again, and hopefully I didn’t say something that can get me into trouble again!”