Annelee Murray worked with the Springboks for 244 matches, including 21 captains, seven national coaches and 248 players. In her book, the First Lady of Springbok Rugby, she details what it was like to work with South Africa’s two World Cup winning coaches, Jake White and Rassie Erasmus.
An extract from Chapter 2 – Rassie and Jake: All about the rugby.
I didn’t sleep much the night before the 2019 World Cup final but it took me back to 2007 in Paris, France, which I felt was a good omen. There was so much that was familiar and similar. Jake White in 2007 and Rassie
Erasmus in 2019 were carbon copies of each other in how the players believed in them, their selections and their game plan.
Having worked with both coaches, they may be very different as people and individuals but there is nothing that separates them when it comes to their primary function, which is to coach and manage the Springboks.
Both were decisive in what they did and both empowered players, but neither would put one individual before another and never would an individual be seen as bigger than the team. For both of them, the thing that mattered most was the player’s performance on the field. They picked players to represent the Springboks and to win Test matches, tournaments and the World Cup. Neither of the coaches tolerated sideshows and they made sure each of us in the management team were very clear about our roles.
Jake and Rassie only needed to say it once, which they did in their very first sessions, which was that they coached rugby and they made the rugby calls. Rassie had a lovely saying, which translated from Afrikaans to English is that everyone carries their own bag. It sounds much better in Afrikaans: ‘Elke een dra sy eie tassie.’ He didn’t want individuals getting caught up in issues that had nothing to do with them and he didn’t want individuals going out of their field of expertise and crossing into lanes in which the could only cause confusion.
Rassie asked every management member to do their job to the best of their ability and he and the coaches promised to do the same. It was a similar message to the players, in that he asked them to be the captain of
their positions and not ‘bullshit’ themselves about their performance. It is word Rassie used a lot and it was very effective because the players and management knew that when he used it, his tone was one of disdain.
If one thing annoyed Rassie, it was when he felt a player was not being honest with himself about his training, commitment or match-day performance and he was consistent in his messaging that the only way we would ever be successful as a champion team was if we didn’t ‘bullshit’ ourselves. If there was honesty, there would be satisfaction and while that honesty wasn’t always going to translate into a win, it meant we would be able to live with ourselves and live with each other.
The two coaches are cut from a similar cloth in that they only wanted what was best for the Springboks. Jake only ever wanted to win and he always believed the Springboks would win the 2007 World Cup in France.
Rassie’s belief in 2018 that the Springboks would win the World Cup in 2019 was a mirror image to what I had seen with Jake in 2004.
Both had inherited a situation in which the Springboks were at a low.
When Jake took over, the Springboks had endured a very difficult 2003 and a very disappointing 2003 World Cup in losing 29-9 to the All Blacks in the quarter-finals in Melbourne, Australia. Rassie, when he took charge of
the Springboks, also had to deal with the team being ranked seventh in the world and on the receiving end of some of the biggest defeats in Bok history.
Both, however, saw only the possibility of winning and were infectious with this positivity.
I had experienced such joy in Paris in 2007 when John Smit led the Springboks to victory against England. I knew the feeling of being on top of the rugby world, just like I had known that feeling of being at the bottom of the rugby pile and unsure if the Springboks could ever recover. I knew which feeling I wanted and I was convinced that Japan 2019 was going to bring the same result as that wonderful night in Paris in 2007.
I can’t wait to read this, this lady @anneleemurray was there for my entire career,over 200 test matches over 19 years.She is God Mother to my boy and a close part of our family’s life.Without Annelee our Bok team would have been lost off the field.Treat yourself and get a copy pic.twitter.com/qyIcl3HxgT
— John Smit (@JohnSmit123) August 12, 2021
An introduction to Annelee Murray and her 20 year journey with the Springboks, writes Mark Keohane, who authored The First Lady of Springbok Rugby.
Annelee Murray’s portfolio with the Springboks was that of Public Relations, but as her book, The First Lady of Springbok Rugby, details, her role and contribution to the success of the Springboks was so much more than a structured job spec.
Many in the team called her the mother of the Springboks, but she wasn’t always too fond of that one.
‘It makes me feel a bit too old,’ she jokes, but as John Smit, the 2007 World Cup-winning captain, so eloquently writes in his foreword, she was without a doubt ‘The First Lady of Springbok Rugby’.
I was privileged to author Annelee’s 20-year journey with the Springboks and the book is a delight and an inspiration. If you are a Bok supporter, you’ll love it because she takes the reader into the team room and with such love and compassion reflects on the many players and coaches that she worked with over the 20 years.
Murray, whose 20-year journey, totaled 244 Springbok matches, 248 players, seven national coaches, six Test centurions and 21 captains, celebrates the essence of the players and coaches that make up the Springboks.
Her story is more about those she loves like family, than herself and she gives the outsider an unrivalled insider’s view of being with the Springboks.
There is so much admiration, appreciation and love between Murray and the players and this is borne out with 20 of the 21 captains and the six Test centurions each contributing a tribute page to Murray.
The words of these captains and Centurions are emphatic endorsements of her value. Only the late Joost van der Westhuizen, for obvious reasons, did not contribute.
Smit’s words introduce the reader to Murray and her journey and the book ends with a powerful and emotional tribute from 2019 World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi.
‘You gave me my first-ever birthday cake when I was with the Springboks. I will never forget that moment. You cared so much. You are an amazing human being,’ writes Kolisi.
‘Annelee you always put us players first and you always protected us. You have been such a huge role model, having done it for so many years. To be the first woman to do it in such a male-dominated sport, I salute you for everything you have done. I will be forever grateful.
‘I know so many young women look up to you and would love to achieve what you have achieved. I hope that when people talk about women in sport, especially a male-dominated sport, they will be singing your name over and over again.
‘I am excited to hear and read your story, and what we can learn from your journey. You are a special person, a true hero and a legend to me.’
In his tribute, former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, writes that when he started his international career, he wondered who Annelee Murray was, but by the time he finished it – 109 Test and 111 Springbok matches later – he knew she was as important to the team as the head coach.
‘I hope that my journey does allow supporters to see the players differently from just men who play 80 minutes of Test rugby on a Saturday. I have tried to humanize them and articulate how I experienced working alongside them,’ writes Murray.
‘I also hope my journey is aspiration as much as inspiration for any young women who want to work in rugby. It can be done. I am proof of that, as are several other wonderfully talented professionals who worked with me.’
Murray has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly, but her journey is a celebration of Springbok rugby in a book that will make your understanding of – and love for – the Springboks players even greater.