A meticulous process must be followed when identifying Rassie Erasmus’ successor, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA.
Rassie Erasmus’ confirmation he will step down as Springbok head coach to focus on his role as director of rugby revealed one of two things: either the power of being Bok coach hasn’t seduced him, or he’s not a glutton for punishment.
Erasmus’ announcement means we can speculate freely about his successor. It is understood the former Springbok flank is naturally partial to his current defence coach, Jacques Nienaber, replacing him. For someone whose catchphrase is ‘alignment’, the move makes sense from a continuity perspective. Since they hit it off as long ago as their army days, Erasmus and Nienaber have studied and worked together for decades, a joint venture that has taken in the sights and sounds of Bloemfontein (with the Cheetahs), Cape Town (Stormers and Springboks) and Limerick (Munster).
More importantly, Erasmus staying on as director of rugby also signals the end of a trend in which South Africa has sent a succession of coaches to the World Cup, only to get rid of them before they can transfer lessons learned.
But the elephant roaming the room is that Nienaber – who started out as a physiotherapist before becoming a defence coach – has never been a head coach, which makes the call a big risk regardless of the support he’d have from Erasmus.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the odd – and inspired – impulse call on who might make a great coach. But there are more and more of these gut-feel calls, and not only do they seem to benefit friends and allies, they are also at the expense of career coaches.
It’s almost as if our rugby finds the idea of hiring actual coaches, with proper track records, too unimaginative.
That said, one hopes Nienaber’s ascent from physio to international head coach – whatever the reasons in its favour – won’t merely be a case of rubber-stamping.
Of course, Erasmus has been right with so many of the seemingly left-field calls he has made – bringing back the overseas-based players, appointing Siya Kolisi captain and trusting wee Cheslin Kolbe in Test rugby, to mention a few – that not many would argue with whatever decision he makes. But there still needs to be some kind of process in place.