South African Rugby Union boss Mark Alexander has told the world it is ‘hands off’ when it comes to Director of Rugby and World Cup-winning coach Rassie Erasmus.
Alexander, with the support of his executive and SARU Chief Executive Jurie Roux was at the forefront of bringing back Erasmus to South Africa from Munster at the end of 2017.
Erasmus was appointed Director of Rugby and took on the additional role of Springbok coach in 2018. He guided the Springboks to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
This week media reports suggested the Rugby Football Union approached Erasmus to take over from England coach Eddie Jones at the end of 2021. Erasmus has stated emphatically, in chats with me, that it would not happen. Erasmus launched his personal Twitter account with the most inspiring of pre-World Cup final speeches to the Springbok players and asked a global audience how he could ever follow up on that speech?. He added: ‘It won’t happen.’
Alexander, when I spoke to him on Tuesday evening, said he and Roux would ensure no such thing could even be a consideration.
‘We wanted Rassie back in South Africa because we knew his value to our game and also because we knew his belief in the future of South African rugby and in South Africa as a country. Anyone who has interacted with Rassie knows that he bleeds green and gold,’ Alexander told Keo.co.za. ‘There is no way we would let him go.’
Erasmus, when he returned from Ireland at the end of 2017, was reported to have been appointed on a six-year contract as the National Director of South African Rugby. The then Springbok coach Allister Coetzee would report into Erasmus in 2018. Coetzee refused Erasmus as his boss and it contributed to his departure from South African rugby.
There was an ignorant response within South Africa to Erasmus’s reported six-year contract. Social media trolls and several influential traditional media critics condemned the length of six years.
Keo.co.za has learned that because of the public backlash the six-year contract was not signed and there was a compromise of four years. It is this discrepancy that has awoken the rest of world rugby’s administration, especially England’s RFU.
Erasmus, at the time, was quoted as saying that whether a contract was six years or one year, if there was no success there would be no contract. He said he would have to be judged on results; not just with the Springboks but with South African rugby at all age groups, within the u20 ranks, the Blitzbok Sevens and also the improvement of the Super Rugby results.
Alexander, at the time, applauded Erasmus’s appointment, his understanding of what was needed in South Africa, his commitment to and belief in transformation, and also the view that he had the ability to gel with the Super Rugby and provincial coaches. Alexander, like Roux, felt they had rediscovered gold with Erasmus, but more importantly appreciated his worth to South African rugby and this country.
‘Rassie is like nothing I have experienced as a Springbok coach or as a rugby person who oversees the best interests of South African rugby. I don’t dispute that Rassie’s time with Munster was massive in terms of his personal growth, but Jurie and I have always known one thing, and that is that Rassie Erasmus is Springbok through and through. I have read the reports, been asked about them and read some more this week about Rassie going to England, and all I can tell the world is that our World Cup-winning coach is going no-where,’ Alexander told Keo.co.za. ‘There is a lot of disruption in world rugby at the moment and there is a lot of whispers and stories. I want to tell South Africans to be calm and to accept that the South African administration knows what we have in Rassie, what we have in our game and we certainly (as an administration) know what we have to do to sustain the momentum of our incredible World Cup win in Japan, which was masterminded by Rassie.
‘Jurie (as CEO), Rassie as Director of Rugby and myself as President of SA Rugby have always been on the same page when it comes to Rassie and why we wanted him back from Ireland. We didn’t bring him back for the 2019 World Cup or the 2021 British & Irish Lions Tour. We brought him back to lead the renaissance of South African rugby, which is beyond 2023.’
Agents linked to the global game confirmed to Keo.co.za that they were told that Erasmus’s contract with the South African Rugby Union expired after the Rugby Championship in 2021, and that is why England’s Rugby Football Union was so interested in Erasmus.
‘It is open season on Rassie until there is confirmation from South African Rugby that he is contractually bound to South African rugby beyond 2021,’ said a leading European-based agent. ‘It would be madness of the RFU not to explore the option of Rassie if he was available post the 2021 season.’
Alexander said that he had no doubt that any commitment to Erasmus extended beyond 2021.
‘I will say it again. It is hands off to our Director of Rugby. If rugby’s global agents want confirmation that the South African Rugby Union is committed to Rassie beyond 2021, then I am telling you and them that we are.’