Gavin Rich, writing for Business Day
An understanding of the method behind the six-year contract awarded to new Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus might diminish the one point of concern that has counter-balanced an otherwise positive response to the appointment.
Where the negativity comes from is Erasmus’ status as the first Bok coach to be contracted for six years. That does seem like a long time, particularly when South African rugby has just had to endure the frustration of having to part ways with a Bok coach who had to be bought out of his contract. But what the detractors of Erasmus’ appointment to the 2023 World Cup are missing is that he is also the first Bok coach to double as a director of rugby.
The concerns are understandable. Erasmus is a good coach, but even Jake White, who was the first coach appointed for a four-year cycle back in 2004, did not go through his tenure without finding himself in the exit lounge at some point. Neither did the two coaches who followed him before the appointment of Coetzee.
Apart from questions relating to what happens if Erasmus has to be paid out of a six year contract, there were others asked on social media that were the right ones to be asking. For instance, what did the contracting of the same coach until 2023 say about SA Rugby’s commitment to transformation? And where does it leave those who have been lobbying for South African rugby to introduce some overseas vision into the coaching team?
Deon Davids hasn’t been in the top level coaching game to be backed as a national coach right at the moment, but he did do wonders as coach of the Southern Kings in the 2017 Super Rugby season. The exodus of players due to the Eastern Cape franchise’s uncertain future has cost the Kings, but given the resources to work with, Davids might in the next two seasons confirm the promise he showed in Super Rugby and show that he is ready to make the step up.
Then there is the possibility of New Zealander John Mitchell making a compelling statement as coach of the Bulls. The column I wrote a couple of weeks ago suggesting Mitchell could be the Bok coach after the 2019 World Cup was not a thumb suck. It was the impression Erasmus gave me after his return from Ireland. As national director of rugby, he was open minded about the possibility of Davids or Mitchell featuring in the Bok plans beyond 2019 if they prove themselves in the interim.
Mention though of Erasmus’ position as director of rugby introduces the subject of where Erasmus differs from his predecessors. Put simply, Erasmus just has a greater sphere of responsibility than any of the other 13 post-isolation Bok coaches had, and while he should be lauded for publicly committing the Boks to immediate success and a quick rise back up the world rankings, much of his vision requires long term planning for it to be successful.
Erasmus has had experience of being a director of rugby in the South African rugby environment before. Although they gave him the title Senior Professional Coach, director of rugby was effectively his role at Western Province.
When Erasmus arrived in Cape Town in 2008 he set about introducing a symmetry in vision and a unified pathway through the age-groups and other levels of rugby in the Western Cape that would ultimately benefit the senior provincial team. He prioritised succession planning and endeavoured to turn previous weaknesses at the union, such as defence and forward play, into strengths. He was never just the coach of the senior team.
The reason Erasmus never saw his goal properly realised at WP was because an administration that is too driven by the politics of amateur office bearers elected out of club rugby didn’t understand Erasmus’ vision and the realities of the professional game and kept interfering.
The way I understand it, Erasmus’ appointment as Bok coach until 2023 is more about giving him control of the process and giving him the authority that he didn’t have at WP to implement much needed succession planning than it is about him wanting to be the de facto coach for that entire period.
The Davids or Mitchell scenarios, or for that a Johan Ackermann or Swys de Bruin scenario, can still happen if Erasmus feels it would work for the Boks. The six years is more to secure his directorship for that period, meaning his authority to make the decisions, than his position as Bok coach.
Also read Rich on SuperSport