Nienaber, Erasmus focus in on the ‘main thing’

Whatever the reasons behind it, SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus putting a bit of daylight between himself and the Springbok team was as timely as it was necessary, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA.

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Having prowled the touchline as the world’s most decorated water-carrier for the duration of the British & Irish Lions series, Erasmus pulled away at the beginning of the home leg of the Rugby Championship against Argentina.

But just when everyone thought he would accompany the team for the away trip to Australia because the Springboks have so much to prove after missing last year’s Rugby Championship and the inane accusations about their style of play, he decided to stay at home.

It could be the main reason was to prepare a defence of his misconduct charge by World Rugby for producing that video criticising referee Nic Berry, but either way it’s time everyone at the Boks stood on their own two feet, from head coach Jacques Nienaber to captain Siya Kolisi.

Erasmus’ need to be by Nienaber’s side was understandable: not only have the two always been each other’s eyes and ears in match situations, but the new head coach didn’t exactly begin his tenure from the most stable of platforms.

From the 20-month delay to actually coaching the team, the side’s lack of international game time to the Covid-19 chronicles that so nearly derailed their Lions series campaign before it had started, Nienaber was dealing with way too many moving parts and it made sense that someone who’d put his neck on the block in recommending him for the job would be there for him.

To be sure, Erasmus’ attention to detail and the quirky manner in which he looks at a game to the point of predicting where it is headed will be missed, but it’s not like he and Nienaber will ever stop being in contact daily (especially as it seems like they don’t really sleep).

Now that Nienaber has got the hang of the ebb and flow of a Test match week – the match reviews, the referee’s report, the selection meetings, the media responsibility, etc – it’s time he ran with it away from the shadow Erasmus casts, unintentionally or otherwise.

While the two of them don’t seem to care who gets mistaken for the Bok head coach in public utterings, the regularity with which Erasmus’ name has almost always been first to be mentioned – thanks largely to how prominent he has been for a director of rugby – has been alarming to the point of disrespecting Nienaber.

The five weeks spent with the Boks in Australia, playing against a Wallabies side which is always tough to beat at home, regardless of a Cadbury sponsorship which suggests they should be soft in the middle, and an All Blacks team gatvol of being in the shadow of a team whose style they feel is inferior, should put Nienaber’s stamp on the squad.

Also, the more teams achieve, the more they need different voices to turn to so the message has a semblance of freshness about it going forward. So as Erasmus’ voice fades much like a driving instructor’s, Mzwandile Stick, Deon Davids, Felix Jones and Daan Human need to chime in.

Ultimately, though, Erasmus’ responsibility as director of rugby extends to areas other than SA Rugby’s cash cow, the Springboks, what with the domestic rugby scene a little diluted at the moment, the feeder system all but crippled by Covid, the Blitzboks undergoing a coaching transition, and the officiating needing desperate attention.

Photo: Steve Haag Sports