SA Rugby appear determined to make it rough for Rassie
Soon-to-be coach Erasmus has to start on the back foot
For every action there is a reaction and in SA Rugby that backlash seems to be against national director of rugby Rassie Erasmus after the axing of underperforming Springbok coach Allister Coetzee.
After two seasons of dismal underachievement, Coetzee was shown the door much to the relief of most fans and commentators. But this being South Africa, the euphoria only lasted a few days before sights were set on Erasmus, his soon-to-be successor.
Accusations by Coetzee in a letter to SA Rugby last month that Erasmus had always been their choice to coach the Boks after Heyneke Meyer in 2016 are not backed up with clear evidence.
Coetzee claimed he was set up to fail to pave the way for Erasmus’s triumphant return. At the time of Coetzee’s appointment Erasmus was director of rugby and already on the SA Rugby payroll. It would have been simpler to promote Erasmus rather than orchestrating a two-year long-term plan to install him as Bok coach while somehow manufacturing two abysmal years for the Boks. It seems a bit of a stretch.But the claim has achieved a blow for Coetzee and his defenders in that it has already weakened Erasmus’s position before officially taking charge.
This week another former Bok coach, the colourful Peter de Villiers, questioned whether Erasmus is the solution to the Boks’ problems, although the quotes from the media conference don’t appear to offer a reason why he feels that. Still, it was another blow to the new man before he begins, which has achieved the intended goal of heaping more pressure on Erasmus.
Which makes this June’s England encounters one of the most important home series in Springbok history and certainly the most important this century.
Despite leaving the Boks in a mess, Coetzee has exonerated himself from the blame, and it’s up to Erasmus and his new management team to fix it against Eddie Jones’s seemingly invincible side.
Erasmus’s role as director of rugby will not be divorced from his job as Bok coach in the eyes of those watching, which is why failure for Erasmus’s Boks will also be a setback for overall planning. The one role is meshed into the other.England have so far won 24 of 25 Tests under Jones and are looking well set to claim a third straight Six Nations title before coming to South Africa.
As fixtures go, only playing the All Blacks in a three-Test series could have been more difficult for the Springboks and Erasmus in his first Tests at the helm.
Given the new wave of questioning of his credentials, Erasmus, who has presented the SA Rugby executive committee with a long-term strategy from the bottom up, will only see it through if he has success at Test level.
Erasmus is starting on the back foot. If the Boks somehow beat England, he will be hailed as the Messiah, which of course would be hugely premature.
But if they fail to beat England, which is the more likely scenario given the respective positions of the two teams four months away from that series, he will be accused of being a fraud and a failure.
Long-term plans will have to wait. There is only one outcome that will keep the Springboks from continuing to career into second tier status, and that is to start winning immediately.