COMMENT: The best is yet to come for Rassie Erasmus

Despite two Rugby World Cup titles on his CV, Rassie Erasmus may not be even close to reaching his potential in terms of what he can do for Springbok rugby. Picture: Adam Davy

Despite two Rugby World Cup titles on his CV, Rassie Erasmus may not be even close to reaching his potential in terms of what he can do for Springbok rugby. Picture: Adam Davy

Published Nov 7, 2023


The best thing about the expected reappointment of Rassie Erasmus as head coach of the Springboks is that the rugby world has yet to see him reach his potential.

I use the word reappointment loosely and with a smile because the man doing the appointment, the SA Rugby director, and the new coach are the same person.

We know that Rassie and Jacques Nienaber have been working in tandem at the Boks since 2018 and that Rassie stepped back from the official role of head coach so that he did not have to do the more mundane aspect of the job like media duties.

The point I want to make is that when Erasmus took over in 2018 from Allister Coetzee, Springbok rugby was in disarray and an ambulance job was required to make the team competitive in Japan.

Meticulous planning

The defibrillators more than did their job and a Bok team meticulously implementing a conservative game plan emerged as unlikely world champions.

The next, year 2020, was supposed to start a new four-year cycle. The plan between Rassie and Nienaber – and it really didn’t matter what the titles were behind their names – would have started growing the Boks’ strategy.

They both said they would have immediately begun expanding squad depth and, vitally, growing options on attack. And after four years of growth, they would have hoped to have an evolved Springbok team firing on all cylinders in France.

But Covid-19 reared its ghastly head and the Boks did not play again until July 2021. That is almost two years of rugby they lost and, importantly, their competitors did not suffer nearly as severely. The lockdown in South Africa was one of the most severe in the world.

So in 2021, the Boks had one rushed Test against Georgia before the series against the British & Irish Lions, and that meant they had no choice but to try pick up where they left off in Japan. All that lost rugby in 2020 and early 2021 meant zero opportunity for growth.

The Boks also found it difficult to do much on their last end-of-year tour and it was only last year that they began seriously looking at improving their depth.

I recall with a grin Rassie’s comment after he and Nienaber were condemned for making 14 changes to the team that played Wales in Bloemfontein (and lost). He said: “If we win the World Cup next year because we blooded new players in Bloemfontein, nobody will remember that we lost to Wales.”

I think Rassie won that one.

The turnaround

But back to my point of us not having seen the best of Rassie. So much of his plotting and planning, not to mention behaviour, has been about trying to get the Boks over the line against top opponents.

It has been about trying to catch up with the leading teams in the world. It has been about trying to get better treatment from referees although he got that spectacularly wrong.

Interestingly, we have just seen Rassie do a complete 180 turnaround in dealing with the officials. I understand that the world’s most respected (former) referee, Nigel Owens, sat him down and firmly pointed out the error of his ways.

The result was an impeccably behaved Bok team in France and they probably got the rub of the green on a few occasions. They certainly got better treatment from the referees than ever before.

Next year, Rassie and the Boks start a new four-year cycle on the front foot for the first time. Rassie has been fighting a rearguard action since he took over in 2018 but now – with rock-solid foundations in place – he can implement a proper strategy to get the best out of the Boks.

Considering that of the 33 players that went to France, only Duane Vermeulen is no longer available, the Boks are in the rudest of health. With their coach at last having time on his hands, their potential is frightening.

IOL Sport