Rassie masterstroke: Duane to defence coach

Duane Vermeulen will soon be unveiled as the new Springbok defence coach, and ZELIM NEL believes Rassie Erasmus is about to hit another home run.

I’m told the announcement may be delayed but the decision has been made – Thor is going to be running the Bok defence in 2024. Assuming my sources are in the know, it’s a genius move.

The idea of a retired player leaping straight into a national coaching role is a head-scratcher, to put it mildly. There will be resistance to the appointment based on the fact that there is little precedent for a player going from retirement to, in the space of a couple of weeks, being drafted in as a member of the national coaching group of the defending world champions.

If Jacques Nienaber has no intention of returning to the Boks in time for the next World Cup, the reasons against the appointment of Vermeulen would be relevant.

For starters, Vermeulen has no track record of being accountable to stakeholders (including Bok supporters) for the performance of a team, and that means he has no experience of the nuances of managing player personnel within those expectations.

Vermeulen is stepping out of a world where his body did all the talking, into a world where his influence stops at talking and it’s up to other bodies to walk the talk.

The appointment of a recently-retired player to such a high-profile position will also be seen as a slap in the face to aspirant and top-flight SA defence coaches across the globe. This would be an unnecessary political cost to gamble on a rookie coach who would go into his first match as a coach having to live up to the expectation that follows winning back-to-back World Cups.

But none of this matters because we’re talking about a temporary fix until Nienaber resumes duty in time for the 2027 Rugby World Cup. In this context, Vermeulen’s name should be first on the list of candidates.

Nienaber has already hinted at the possibility of his return, and history suggests that he and Erasmus will soon be reunited.

The genesis of arguably the greatest coaching tandem in the professional history of the game dates back to 2004 with Erasmus and Nienaber coaching Free State’s Vodacom Cup team. Vermeulen joined the Cheetahs from the Pumas in 2007 and then shifted to Cape Town in 2009 for a reunion with the two coaches. This illustrates the depth of his experience in Nienaber’s systems, and Vermeulen’s fundamental belief in the coaching philosophy that underpins it makes him the Cinderella for this glass slipper.

Moreover, Vermeulen will command a peerless level of respect from the current group of Boks, given he has twice walked the road to glory with them.

To all intents and purposes, Vermeulen has served as the Boks on-field defence coach since Erasmus took the helm in 2018.

There are obviously far more qualified and experienced options to choose from in appointing a Springbok defence coach, but few of them would accept the offer under the condition that the role was available pending Neinaber’s return, and those who would agree to those terms rule themselves out as unsuitable candidates for exactly that reason.

While ‘Rasmeulen’ will ruffle the feathers of many, one demographic that will have absolutely no problem with it are the current Bok players, many of whom are two-time world champions and, importantly, likely to be in the vanguard of the charge to making history in Australia in 2027.

Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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