Rassie Erasmus’ honesty and clarity of thinking have been a boon for the Boks over the last ’17 weeks’ of World Cup-centred preparations, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Not that long ago, colleague Gavin Rich penned a book called ‘The Poisoned Chalice’, which looked at the rise and fall of the post-isolation Bok coaches. In it, he references what he calls ‘Mad Coaches Disease’ – an affliction that seems to affect every Bok coach at some point or another.
As is the nature of this high-pressure coaching job in the primary hot seat of South African sport, somewhere along the way, a time seems to come when a coach loses the plot or begins to doubt themselves. And the consequences can be dire.
Not to pick on one coach or another, but a prime example of this could be seen towards the end of Allister Coetzee’s tenure. Back in September 2017, the Boks suffered a humiliating, record 57-0 loss to the All Blacks in Albany.
Just over a week later, I was covering the team’s buildup to a clash with the Wallabies in Bloemfontein, and it all became very confusing in a hurry.
On the Monday at the start of that Test week, Coetzee vehemently came to the defence of under-fire wing Raymond Rhule and insisted that he wouldn’t be ‘discarded’ after just one poor game. Yet, not even 48 hours later, Rhule was axed from the squad, leaving reporters such as this one utterly perplexed.
That same week, Coetzee also rather publicly suggested squad member Francois Hougaard was simply not up to standard as a Test scrumhalf.
‘In terms of my lowest low, getting dropped from the Springboks in 2017 and finding out on Twitter that the coach [Coetzee] said that I didn’t have the technical abilities to play Test rugby and by definition I wasn’t good enough, was tough to take,’ Hougaard reflected in an interview earlier this year when discussing that incident.
‘He should rather have spoken to me in person and given me a reason instead of embarrassing me on media platforms. If you drop me and tell me the reason that’s perfectly fine and I accept that. I have no problem when a coach doesn’t pick me but tells me why he didn’t face to face. That didn’t happen.’
To use such an example is not to attack Coetzee, because that tumultuous period has passed, but it is an important reminder of some of the problems that plagued the inner workings of the Bok camp not that long ago.
For whatever strengths and weaknesses some coaches have, the fact of the matter is that there has generally been one common refrain voiced by various players when describing the current Springbok environment. Clear-cut communication and honesty are the buzzwords from numerous players when describing what Eramus has brought to the Bok set-up.
It was a point I was reminded of when hearing Erasmus’ explanation of how he has managed the greater 31-man World Cup squad and let some players know that they wouldn’t be featuring in the quarter-final.
The long and short of it is that Erasmus admitted that the difficult conversations were not required at this point in time because each and every squad member had already been aware for ’17 weeks’ of their role in the team, and whether they would be playing.
Sitting alongside Frans Steyn, Erasmus explained that he was the sort of player who was aware that he was in line to probably feature in every game of the World Cup, but that he would not be likely to start.
Other players who were not in the match-day 23 also remained mindful of the important role they play at training; and the bigger picture is that the entire squad will be celebrating together on 2 November should the Springboks successfully claim the World Cup trophy.
Ultimately, there is no doubt that Erasmus’ communication and man management has been an extremely beneficial factor for team dynamics and a point of difference compared to some of his predecessors.
Now, Erasmus will just want to ensure that he doesn’t somehow fall victim to that much-maligned ‘Mad Coaches Disease’ as he potentially enters the last phase of his ‘head coach’ hands-on role.
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