South African rugby has enough quality players for the Boks to become a force to be reckoned with in time for the 2019 World Cup, according to director of rugby Rassie Erasmus. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Over the past two years, the Boks have suffered historic defeats against the likes of Ireland, Italy, Argentina and New Zealand – not to mention back-to-back losses against Wales in Cardiff – while slipping back to sixth in the world rankings.
It’s led to a feeling of hopelessness for SA rugby stakeholders, with many beginning to question whether there are enough players performing at the necessary level for the Boks to compete with the best. A significant question mark has also hung over the ongoing player exodus to overseas clubs.
In the background, SA Rugby has begun to analyse some of the issues at the root cause of the Bok problem, while implementing a proposed turnaround plan that has seen Erasmus take up a position as South Africa’s director of rugby.
On Thursday, Erasmus fronted up to the local media for the first time since assuming his new role back at SA Rugby headquarters, and insisted the priority was to ensure the Boks would regain their status as a once revered and feared team.
‘Our biggest asset is that we have a tremendous amount of players, and if we utilise those players well, then we can become one of the big powers in world rugby again. Those are the things we are looking at closely.
‘One of the biggest things is access to players, and that’s why I’m travelling around to see the franchises and coaches. It’s also about the management of players, some of whom have tripartite contracts, so there are lots of things where we are looking to build a working relationship built on trust.
‘If a franchise doesn’t do well, I must be worried, but if they do well, I must be proud with them. So we’re on the road a lot and meeting with all the roleplayers at the various franchises to discuss this stuff, and to also get to know the players.’
Erasmus admitted it would always be a challenge to try and enforce a playing blueprint that would have uniformity across all franchises, but he reiterated that it had been encouraging to see how receptive everyone appeared to be.
‘It’s always easy to say we’ve got a blueprint, and that’s nice to have at a fundamental and skills level, but it’s not so easy on a tactical level. You can never have every franchise playing tactically like you want to play, but we need to work closely with them so that we understand what they’re trying to do, and that’s the gap we’re trying to bridge. So I think the past two or three months have already been a step in the right direction, even though we’re still some way off.
‘We’ve got excellent coaches at our franchises, with people who are very open-minded, and we will even spend time there coaching with them if they want us to. We’re already sitting there with them in one-on-ones, and I think that relationship is really building.’
Considering the challenges facing South African rugby, Erasmus was asked whether he really believed the Boks could become a competitive world force by the time the fast-approaching 2019 World Cup rolled around. His answer was emphatic.
‘Definitely! We’ve got 18 Test matches before the next World Cup, and around 600 days, so we have to utilise each of those days. We have to get to know the players and the coaches, understand what’s going on, and to integrate ourselves into their systems. We have to catch up a bit to the other teams that are ranked one to three, but we’ve started the process, and we know that we have to begin the planning now and not just wait until it’s around the time of a Test match.’
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