One of the first orders of business for Rassie Erasmus in his director of rugby capacity should be to lure Johan Ackermann into the Springbok coaching set-up, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It almost seems strange that more hasn’t been made of Erasmus’ exit from the Boks’ head coaching role.
Yes, everyone was forewarned, and the World Cup-winning coach made it very clear that he would be stepping back from his hands-on role after the World Cup, but hell, it’s still a big loss.
It’s hard to imagine there is another man who could have masterminded such a turnaround for the Springboks in such a short space of time, and while Erasmus will still be heavily involved in the Boks’ wellbeing, there will be a different leader in the head coaching hot seat.
On Thursday, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said they were waiting on Erasmus’ report back and proposal before they would take action on appointing a new coach. The hope is that the process will be completed before the new year.
During the latter stages of the World Cup, the whispers seemed to be aligning for right-hand man Jacques Nienaber to succeed Erasmus, but last weekend, a report identifying former Kings coach Deon Davids as another strong candidate also made headlines.
Putting any reservations aside, it’s surely fair to say that whoever Erasmus is willing to entrust, you’d imagine SA Rugby will have no hesitation in agreeing. Indeed, most fans would probably still place their trust in Erasmus’ recommendation even if it was to appoint Mickey Mouse as head coach.
Ultimately, Erasmus has done wonders for the Springboks’ well-being, and his primary goal now is to set the team on the road to long-term success at the summit of the game.
Since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup, Erasmus has repeatedly referenced the hegemony of the All Blacks, and made no secret of the fact that he doesn’t want the Boks to be one-hit wonders under his watch.
In the context of the Springboks’ future planning, I can’t help but be surprised that Ackermann’s name is not being bandied about a lot more. Over the last couple of years, he has been quietly going about his business for English club Gloucester, a job that followed his revolutionary work at the Lions.
Very similarly to Erasmus, Ackermann is a coach who has a presence about him. As a highly regarded former Springbok, he is as well-liked as he is well-respected.
His strengths have always been his amicable man management and ability to create a family culture of honesty through open communication. These are some of the traits that Erasmus also championed, and which were key to the Springboks’ success.
Furthermore, just as Erasmus evolved as a coach and learned a great deal during his time with Irish club Munster, you’d imagine that Ackermann has also grown as a coach while working in England.
What I’d hope is that there’s at least been a phone call between Erasmus and Ackermann to enquire about his availability or willingness to return home to work with the Springboks.
At the end of the day, it may all just be wishful thinking considering that Gloucester confirmed back in May that they had extended Ackermann’s contract after he led the club to a third-place finish in the 2018-19 Premiership season.
‘We’re not naive to think that the work he’s done here has gone unnoticed in the world of rugby,’ Gloucester’s director of rugby David Humphreys stated at the time. ‘And that’s why we wanted to move quickly to ensure that he remains an integral part of what we’re trying to achieve in the future.’
So, one can only hope that Ackermann perhaps has a clause written into that contract that could allow him to enforce a release should a national side come calling.
If an agreement could be reached, the former forward would surely add immense value to the Springboks’ management group, whether that be as the head coach or as an assistant.
As world champions, the Springboks’ stocks have surely never been higher, and Erasmus should do everything in his power – even if that involves some heavy bargaining – to get the best back to South Africa.
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