The retention of a crack coaching staff and player group will allow the Springboks to build on a World Cup triumph for the first time in history, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Rassie Erasmus, Beast Mtawarira, Schalk Brits and Francois Louw. Only four people have confirmed that they will be moving on after a successful World Cup campaign in Japan.
Erasmus will focus on his director of rugby role for the foreseeable future. If everything goes according to plan, a new man will move into the head-coach hot seat before the end of the year.
Erasmus has been clear about his mission to fix South African rugby’s myriad problems. He stated from the outset that the added responsibility of coaching the Boks was temporary and that a permanent coach would be in place ahead of the 2020 season.
It’s been a record-breaking year for the Boks. They’ve won the Rugby Championship and the World Cup in a single season. They’ve secured the Team of the Year, Player of the Year and Coach of the Year accolades. It’s tempting to believe that it doesn’t get better than this, and that Erasmus shouldn’t attempt to fix something that isn’t broken.
Fortunately, Erasmus himself knows better. As a veteran of the South African system, he is aware of its limitations and weaknesses. He will know that a lot more needs to change in order for the franchises to flourish and for the Boks to build on the recent successes.
‘Why don’t you stay on as coach, Rassie?’ This was put to Erasmus throughout the playoffs and directly after the World Cup final in Yokohama. Time and time again, Erasmus patiently explained that he has bigger fish to fry.
At the same time, Erasmus spoke about continuity. He inferred that South Africa should follow New Zealand’s lead and retain their coaches rather than start from scratch at the end of each World Cup cycle. This is, of course, what transpired after the World Cup victories in 1995 and 2007 and Erasmus is wary of making the same mistakes.
It’s an open secret that Erasmus has been grooming Jacques Nienaber for the head coach role for some time. The defence coach has played a key role in South Africa’s revival over the past two seasons. His methods have reaped significant rewards and according to other coaches and players he is a top man manager who knows how to get the best out of his charges.
Erasmus would do well to retain the rest of the coaching staff. Matt Proudfoot has taken the Boks’ set piece to another level, Mzwandile Stick has improved the players’ off-the-ball awareness and aerial abilities while Aled Walters has pushed the group to reach unprecedented levels of fitness. The medical staff also deserves a mention when you consider how few serious injuries have hampered the side in 2019.
Before the World Cup, I wrote that Erasmus had assembled a Bok side with the potential to peak in the 2021 British & Irish Lions series and 2023 World Cup. Even after the success in Japan, I feel that the best is yet to come and that – with the right coach at the helm – the Boks are on the brink of another golden era.
Mtawarira, Louw and Brits have confirmed that their Test days are done. It remains to be seen if more senior players such as Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn will have a crack at the Lions in 2021. Both would certainly add value to the Bok side.
Every other player who featured in Japan should be available for the duration of the next four-year cycle. Many will be reaching their peak by the time the Lions arrive in 2021.
The squad that travels to France in 2023 will be vastly experienced. By then, the majority of the group will range between 27 and 32 years of age. If they are well managed, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Damian de Allende, Faf de Klerk, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Lood de Jager, Handre Pollard, Malcolm Marx, Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am, Cheslin Kolbe, Thomas du Toit, Warrick Gelant, RG Snyman, Sbu Nkosi and Herschel Jantjies could all make an impact.
Kolisi, Malherbe, Du Toit, De Allende, Etzebeth, De Jager, Pollard and Kriel should go on to feature at their third World Cup. Balance is important in a World Cup squad, and I doubt that South Africa will want for young stars. Damian Willemse will be 25 when that tournament in France rolls round.
The Boks reached the pinnacle of world rugby this season. While they have the right personnel and systems at place at the highest level, they must continue to build and innovate in the years to come.
Erasmus, as the director of rugby, will have a key role to play with regard to addressing the issues at the lower levels and strengthening the nation’s depth and tactical approach.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports