Rassie Erasmus would add immense value to a South African rugby system that finally appears to be showing signs of functioning efficiently again, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
First, let’s take a moment to enjoy the fact that the Boks produced their best performance under the guidance of Allister Coetzee this past Saturday as they comfortably overcame a strengthened French team.
As the man who fronted up at the end of last year’s disastrous season and presented a plan for the way to turn things around, Coetzee has to receive due credit for the positive changes that have been abundantly apparent in the first two Tests of this year.
Key to this has been the appointment of defence guru Brendan Venter, the increased input of new attack coach Franco Smith, the running of a pre-season ‘culture’ camp in Plettenberg Bay, as well as vastly improved planning, conditioning work and preparation.
Furthermore, Coetzee was honest enough to acknowledge that he got certain things drastically wrong last year, and it’s led to a change in selection policy that has seen him reward in-form Super Rugby players and appoint the highly-respected Warren Whiteley as skipper.
It’s all been enough to see the Boks secure a series triumph over France with one game remaining, while Coetzee is surely set to remain as head coach for the foreseeable future (only a horror series defeat was expected to set the axe in motion).
Yet, a reliable report emerged over the weekend to suggest once again that Erasmus is firmly in line to take up a hands-on director of rugby role with the Springboks.
In fact, according to the Irish Independent, Erasmus has already triggered the six-months' notice clause in his contract that will allow him return to South Africa, while it’s expected that right-hand man Jacques Nienaber would also make the move back to the Boks.
At the end of the day, the increasingly likely return of Erasmus is a move that should be warmly welcomed. Indeed, let’s celebrate the encouraging start to the international season that the Boks have made, but let’s also not lose sight of just how far they still have to go.
As it is, the Boks remain sixth in the world rankings, and still miles behind the likes of the All Blacks and England.
In order to start closing that gap, the Boks require all the help they can get, and if Erasmus and SA Rugby have finally agreed to terms, it could be a masterstroke.
Beyond the fact that Erasmus only served to heighten his reputation as he sparked a revival at Munster which saw the Irish club reach this season's Champions Cup semi-finals, as well as the Pro12 final, he remains one of the most meticulous and innovative coaches in the game.
Increasingly in the modern era, there is the need for science, analysis and insight to be applied by an experienced mind in order to keep pace with the ever-changing trends of the game.
Let’s not get bogged down by details such as the definition of a title such as ‘director of rugby’. As an example, Venter may have been appointed as a designated ‘defence and exits’ coach, but there’s no doubt that his on-field and off-field input would have extended well beyond this.
His positive contribution has been clear to see, but the fact remains that there is no formal contract in place, and while SA Rugby should be doing everything in its power to keep him involved, there are no guarantees when it comes to his long-term future with the Boks.
Should Venter make his exit before the end of the year, it would only make further sense to welcome the arrival of Erasmus – and Nienaber to boot.
Erasmus could make a massive impact in terms of standardising playing patterns and skills training across South African rugby, while ensuring that careful succession planning and player retention policies are put in place.
Although the former Cheetahs coach has never taken kindly to the politics in SA rugby, and doesn't enjoy having the spotlight shone on him through extensive media engagements, take this away, and he could thrive in terms of adding increased professionalism, while providing on-field input along with Coetzee.
Don’t forget that Erasmus’ hands-on role at Munster only increased after the untimely death of Anthony Foley. He has proven himself to be adept at balancing his responsibilities, and effectively managing players through difficult times.
Should Erasmus’ return to South African rugby materialise, his influence would only ensure that the Boks continue to be steered in the right direction. One that just might finally bring the All Blacks back into sight.
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