Rassie Erasmus has made the most calculated of public job applications to be the next England coach, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Erasmus, who won World Cup gold as Springbok coach in Japan in 2019, is renowned for being several steps ahead of the obvious. South Africa’s national director of rugby doesn’t do spontaneous, impromptu or silly when it comes to rugby.
As a player, everything Erasmus did on the field was well thought out and delivered with precision. Equally as a coach and most definitely in his role as director of rugby.
Erasmus’ Daily Mail (part one) exclusive & Daily Mail (part two) exclusive interview, presented in the guise of a hard man turned teddy bear by public criticism and a hard man turned teddy bear by the opinions of those up north, was nothing more than a testing of the waters, both in England and in South Africa, should he make himself available to succeed England coach Eddie Jones after the 2023 World Cup.
It didn’t require the cracking of any code to know what the back-to-back ‘exclusives’ detailing Erasmus’s emotional outpourings were about: would the English rugby public, fans and media, accept him after his match-officials video ambush of the British & Irish Lions series and would the South African rugby public embrace Erasmus wanting a new challenge, even if it was against the most detested of rugby foes?
Erasmus, in spending eight hours with journalists from the very same Daily Mail publication that trashed him during the Lions series against the Springboks in 2021, and called for him to be banned for two years from world rugby, went to those who condemned him less than a year ago, to break bread on the possibility of him coaching England.
Erasmus tugged at every violin string there was – detailing his own tears, his own hurt and his own anguish at how he felt he had been attacked for making a video on match referee Nic Berry’s bias or incompetence (choose whichever you feel is applicable), which he knew would go public and go viral.
Forget his defence that he didn’t leak the video. He made it and knew it would be leaked and I for one applauded the making of the video, the making of it public and the embarrassment it caused for Berry and world rugby’s diabolical standard of refereeing and the governing body’s acceptance of such a mess.
The Keo.co.za blog carried story after story applauding Erasmus and there is no doubt the public video contributed towards the kind of officiating we experienced for the remainder of the series.
Erasmus was subsequently banned for a three-month period and given a kind of suspended sentence until September 2022, when it comes to involvement with the Springboks. He can conduct his affairs as national director of rugby pre the international season, but can’t be running the water or be near the Boks on match day.
Erasmus and the Lions was the most reported-on rugby story in 2021, but by March 2022, rugby and the world had moved on. The Boks had played a Rugby Championship and gone on an end-of-year tour, which included a one-point defeat by England.
The video and the Lions were so last year, but Erasmus used what was big last year as a fishing rod to cast his line into the future.
Erasmus, post the 2019 World Cup success, on his Twitter account, pinned his World Cup final pre-match speech as a counter to any suggestion he would be interested in coaching England.
Now he is saying it would be a consideration if the English wanted him and the South African rugby public wouldn’t hate him for doing it.
Among his quotes to the Daily Mail, he said: “I don’t think the English people would ever want me there now. Maybe I am wrong. I hope I am wrong. Would I coach another country? If my own people were cool with it and the other country’s people were cool with it, then why not?
“But if my own people are going to hate me for it, then I would never do it. I hate the fact that so many people hate me in rugby right now. I’m not a confrontational guy. I like to get on with people.
“South Africa has my heart but coaching England would be amazing because I think they can win. I would love to coach Ellis Genge.
“Any prop that looks the other prop in the eyes before a scrum, you know he’s a dog. You don’t want a prop that’s looking at his toes, scared. I want guys like Genge on my team.
“If I felt like South Africans were not going to hate me on the street then I would consider it.”
I had to chuckle when reading it, as I did when reading the hundreds of comments applauding Erasmus for showing his human side, for being able to share his tears and anguish and for being more than a rugby coach.
Erasmus spoke of the potency of England’s Ellis Genge and what a pleasure it would be to coach a prop of his quality and character makeup. He spoke of England centre Manu Tuilagi sending him a teddy bear and questioned whether it was mocking him or whether it was to give to his daughters in a kinder gesture.
You don’t have to read between the lines to see where Erasmus was going with this open heart to the Daily Mail. You simply have to read the lines. This was no ‘cap-in-hand apology’.
This was an emphatic: ‘I will entertain the offer of England if you are willing to entertain me.’
Erasmus used the word monster, but that is either a projection or well- crafted word. I don’t believe it was projection, rather a word used deliberately to soften a response.
For example, we may not have liked you last year in the United Kingdom, but you are no monster.
He also used the word “hate” quite liberally when saying the South African rugby people could “hate” him if he coached England. Hate is a strong word and there is no hate for Erasmus in world rugby and there would be no hatred for him if he took the opportunity of coaching England.
There would be a sense of betrayal maybe, sadness for some and definite disappointment, but not hate.
Erasmus is not the type of person who has ever considered popularity in making his rugby decisions.
But he has enough insight to know that if he can win sympathy with the English media, he can turn them into ambassadors. The Boks won the Lions series and that stands for 12 years.
Erasmus has nothing to lose because he either stays king of the castle in South Africa or is welcomed to be the new king of England’s castle.
This very public exclusive to the Daily Mail was all strategic.
Why not go to the biggest rugby print and online publication in South Africa, Rapport, to tell a story if it is so close to your heart?
The answer is simple, because Erasmus’ intention was to talk to his potential future audience and not his existing one.
Some would say genius; some may say not so clever.
Either way, you don’t have to be a genius to appreciate his thinking in baring all to the British public in 2022, just like you didn’t have to be a genius to understand the 62-minute match officials video that ultimately turned a tortured series deficit into a terrific Springboks triumph.