Chief writer Jon Cardinelli and editor Craig Lewis debate what the next Bok coach’s biggest challenge will be in 2020.
Cardinelli says it’s access to overseas-based players:
The 2019 Test season presented the Springboks with a rare opportunity. The coaches and players spent 20 weeks together from the start of the Rugby Championship to the end of the World Cup tournament. They used that time to improve their fitness to the point where they were the most well-conditioned side on the planet. Coach Rassie Erasmus enjoyed an extended opportunity to work with the group and implement a winning gameplan and culture. The overseas-based stars remained with the team for more than four months and there were no disruptions.
Erasmus’ successor won’t have the same luxury in 2020. Outside a World Cup year, the rules regarding the international window will apply. The new Bok coach is unlikely to have all of his Europe-based players available for the planning sessions leading up to the 2020 opener. As we’ve seen in the past, Bok stars who play their club rugby in England and France typically return to South Africa five or six days before the first Test of the season.
Will we see Handre Pollard (Montpellier), Faf de Klerk (Sale), Eben Etzebeth (Toulon) and other World Cup winners competing in every Rugby Championship Test? Or will the new coach have to limit the appearances of these players across that tournament and in the subsequent end-of-year tour to keep their clubs happy? Erasmus and his predecessors faced a similar challenge in previous seasons, especially in games that fell outside the World Rugby-sanctioned window.
Lewis says it’s striking a work balance with Rassie Erasmus:
The position of director of rugby is still a relatively novel concept in South African rugby, particularly at national level. While Rassie Erasmus assumed this role along with the head coaching responsibilities when he returned to South Africa, it remains to be seen how significantly his day-to-day duties will change.
Understandably, in the early part of his tenure, Erasmus’ focus was to take care of the hands-on coaching of the Springboks, and he exceeded expectations, quickly taking the team back to the summit of world rugby.
However, he will now step into his role as director of rugby, and while he is sure to remain closely involved with the Springbok set-up, there will be a new man in the head coach’s office. After the World Cup, defence guru and Erasmus’ right-hand man, Jacques Nienaber, was viewed by many as the front-runner.
Whatever the case may be, it will be essential for the new coach and Erasmus to quickly settle into a successful working relationship. As examples, think of the roles Jake White and Gary Gold fulfilled at the Sharks not all that long ago. White and Gold were also termed ‘directors of rugby’, but the lines became blurred over their exact roles, and the two effectively served as hands-on coaches, with limited success.
After all the achievements the Springboks celebrated in 2019, they cannot afford to have a power struggle at the helm, or a lack of clarity over roles.
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