Rassie Erasmus’ refuted departure from SA rugby would have made no sense in the context of his long-term vision for the Springboks, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
When Rassie Erasmus was named World Rugby Coach of the Year the day after the Springboks had lifted the Webb Ellis trophy, his players gave him a standing ovation.
With an understated smile, the coach explained what the accolade meant, first acknowledging his counterparts who had also been nominated. But Erasmus quickly changed gear and reminded everyone he would now focus on his role as director of rugby.
‘We are all trying to be like the All Blacks,’ he added. ‘We know what New Zealand has done over the past 12 years – they set the bar right up there. We’ve won the World Cup, but we want to be consistent and to try to stay at No 1 in the world.’
In subsequent interviews, Erasmus’ long-term vision for the Springboks also became abundantly clear.
‘When I took over, it was just 618 days until the World Cup and we planned to win it,’ he said. ‘It is now about 614 days until the British & Irish Lions arrive in South Africa and we will start planning for that now.’
The afterglow of the Boks’ World Cup success will only last so long. As former national captain Jean de Villiers has pointed out in a previous column, the Springboks will now have a target on their backs.
Having risen to the summit of the game in such spectacular fashion, every Test team will be looking for ways to dismantle the newly crowned world champions. The All Blacks, in particular, will be desperate to find redemption in the 2020 Rugby Championship.
However, the Boks’ next major assignment is the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour. It’s a celebrated series that rivals any rugby event. Top players from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England will arrive on our shores bearing some physical and mental scars from the World Cup. They, too, will want revenge and redemption.
The Boks will have a very different goal in mind. They will want to ensure their 2019 Rugby Championship and World Cup successes translate into long-term hegemony.
‘We have the players and the support to always be challenging and I am really excited for the future,’ Erasmus said. ‘We want to get consistency now and work towards the British & Irish Lions and next World Cup. Hopefully we can get that right.’
It’s with all this in mind, it never really seemed likely that Erasmus would consider a move away from SA rugby, especially considering he would surely have been handsomely rewarded for leading the Boks to World Cup glory.
Maybe it will be a different story after the next four-year cycle, but you sense Erasmus is determined to oversee a sustained period of success to ensure the Springboks’ 2019 golden year is not just a one-hit wonder under his watch.
There is clearly a lot left to achieve.
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