Although there has been no official confirmation from SA Rugby over the Bok coaching setup, Rassie Erasmus’ work is already well underway, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Around this time last year, SA Rugby conducted a comprehensive review of the Boks’ dismal 2016 season that yielded just four wins from 12 Tests. Despite widespread calls for Allister Coetzee to face the axe, the executive council eventually reaffirmed its support for the Bok coach on 27 February 2017.
Two areas of support were identified as Franco Smith and Brendan Venter came in as assistant coaches, but it could not detract from the perception that there was simply no Plan B.
Again, an expectant rugby public is calling for answers after another disappointing season, and while there has been a frustrating lack of transparency over the ongoing review process, it can’t be overlooked that Erasmus has already been taking charge as the de facto Bok boss.
His appointment was confirmed in the middle of last year, and he officially started in his new position as director of rugby as far back as 20 November. Make no mistake, Erasmus has been meticulously planning the way forward for some time now.
Erasmus has returned to South Africa because he is passionate about setting SA rugby and the Springboks back on the right track. He will know which players and coaches he wants to work with, and it’s only a matter of time before this is revealed.
Defence specialist Jacques Nienaber and scrum guru Pieter de Villiers have already been working closely with Erasmus, while he has recruited conditioning expert Aled Walters from Munster.
Smith could also remain part of the Bok coaching group if he accepts an offer to relocate to Cape Town, while SARugbymag.co.za understands that Mzwandile Stick is indeed in the running for a return to the Springbok setup.
Erasmus and certain members of his team have also begun their visits to South Africa’s Super Rugby unions, and it’s understood that he is dead-set on establishing a much-improved working relationship with these franchises.
After spending 18 months with Munster, Erasmus received plenty of clear-cut communication from Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, and he has a definitive understanding of the importance of this relationship between the national and provincial powers-that-be.
He is also far more cognisant of his capabilities as a hands-on coach after having to take up this role with Munster after initially being appointed as director of rugby.
Erasmus will also have a definite idea of which overseas-based players he believes can add value to the Boks, and the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn can certainly be expected to come into the mix.
All of this is going on behind the scenes while SA Rugby conducts its due process in assessing and reviewing the progress and position of the Springbok team and coaches over the past two years.
It’s expected that Coetzee will be removed from his current post, but there are various legal and labour processes that have to be followed, while he has the right to present his ‘defence’.
Although an agreement or settlement has not been easy to come by, what is very evident is that Erasmus has already effectively taken charge of the Springboks’ planning and will serve as the Bok boss in the likely event that Coetzee is axed.
In the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup, it’s also expected that Erasmus will begin working towards identifying the top coaching candidate who will be suited to taking the Boks forward after the global showpiece.
All in all, SA Rugby is expected to make some clarifying announcements in the next week or two. And just perhaps, there might be less cause for doom and gloom then some may suggest considering the work that is already well underway.
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