Rassie Erasmus insists that any uncertainty over the Springbok coaching structures will not affect his role as South Africa’s new director of rugby, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
There has been an understanding for some time now that the national coaching setup is in line for a shake-up, with the Boks’ loss to Wales in their final Test last year leaving Allister Coetzee with a meagre 44% win record over his two-year tenure to date (11 victories from 25 Tests).
However, there has been a shroud of mystery over the performance review that was expected to take place in mid-January, but which has been overshadowed after an explosive letter from Coetzee to SA Rugby became public this past weekend.
In a multi-page document, Coetzee suggested that he had been informed that his contract would be terminated, or at the very least that he would be demoted to a ‘ceremonial’ role reporting to Erasmus, which he described as an ‘indignity’.
It provided the impression that Coetzee would not be going down without a fight, while leaving a lingering question over just who is in charge of the Boks less than five months away from an all-important three-Test series against England in June.
However, Erasmus officially took up his post as the new director of rugby last November, and has already begun meticulously planning the way forward for the Springboks and South African rugby.
On Thursday night, Erasmus was present at an induction function for the SA Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch, and in his first engagement with local media, he began to shed some light on the role that he is performing.
‘There has already been a lot of planning going on through various levels of the game, and particularly with regards to the Springboks. We are ranked sixth in the world, so my immediate focus and the big ticket is to fix things as soon as possible.’
Erasmus insisted that plenty of work was already well under way behind the scenes – including crucial collaboration with all South Africa’s franchises – and that the Boks could be ready in time to face England in June.
‘I think all of us want things [with the coaching roles and responsibilities] to be in place as soon as possible, but I don’t see it as a massive problem. I can take you back to 2012 when Heyneke [Meyer] was appointed, we did all the planning [behind the scenes], but a lot of the support staff were only confirmed shortly before the start of that first Test series, and we beat England in that series. It was the same with Allister two years ago, and we beat Ireland 2-1 [in June 2016].
‘So there has been planning going on behind the scenes, and of course we want to get that clarity, but there is a process that has to run its course. However, it’s not hindering us in the background and it isn’t affecting my role as director of rugby, which is to ensure that we are as well prepared as possible to be able to beat England in that first Test series.’
When Erasmus was asked whether he would move into a hands-on coaching role if need be, he remained non-committal, but reiterated that he would be willing to work in any capacity required for the betterment of South African rugby.
Although there has yet to be any formal confirmation from SA Rugby, it’s expected that an announcement clarifying certain positions in the Springbok coaching setup will be made before the end of February.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images