Opinions, Springboks

Rassie ready and zoned in on Eddie’s England

Springbok boss Rassie Erasmus insists there is enough time to prepare a series winning squad for the challenge of Eddie Jones’s England in June. He also believes he can select a side capable of beating the world’s second best team.

The Springboks are currently ranked sixth in the world.

England has won just three Tests in South Africa in the history of the game and Erasmus believes that the Springboks, in South Africa, should always start as the favourites to beat any team in a three-Test series.

He spoke of the quality of South African player and also the history of how difficult is has been for touring teams in the Republic.

Erasmus has spent the past month visiting the four Super Rugby regions and also spending time with the head coaches and players. He has also been in contact with players up north specific to an identification plan in relation to the 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign and South African rugby in general.

Erasmus would have done the work he has done whether Allister Coetzee was retained or axed. Had Coetzee stayed he would have reported into Erasmus. As it is, Erasmus has agreed to take charge of the hands-on responsibilities of preparing the Springboks for the 2019 World Cup.

Erasmus told SA Rugby Mag’s Craig Lewis: ‘I think all of us want things (with the coaching roles and responsibilities) to be in place as soon as possible, but I don’t see'(the delay up until Coetzee’s sacking confirmation on Friday) it as a massive problem.

‘I can take you back to 2012 when Heyneke (Meyer) was appointed, we did all the planning (behind the scenes), but a lot of the support staff were only confirmed shortly before the start of that first Test series, and we beat England in that series. It was the same with Allister two years ago, and we beat Ireland 2-1 (in June 2016).

‘So, there has been planning going on behind the scenes, and of course we want to get that clarity, but there is a process that has to run its course. However, it’s not hindering us in the background and it isn’t affecting my role as director of rugby, which is to ensure that we are as well prepared as possible to be able to beat England in that first Test series.’

Erasmus doubled up as coach and Director of Rugby at Munster.

This is a column I wrote on Sport24 in December explaining why I believed Erasmus was the right choice to lead the Springboks in 2018.

Rassie Erasmus will have enough time to make the Springboks contenders at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

I am not saying he can build a Bok team that will beat the All Blacks in pool play but he certainly can identify a group of players good enough to make the playoffs, and once there it becomes a new tournament within a tournament.

The draw also is the best one possible for the Springboks because they get a first up crack at the world champions and then avoid playing them until a possible final, should both teams make it that far.

The 2019 World Cup grouping is a positive for South African rugby, and so is Erasmus’s return.

He must be entrusted with the responsibility of beating Eddie Jones’s England in 2018.

The Springboks play England in three Tests in South Africa and one at Twickenham. They also play the All Blacks twice and the Wallabies twice. Those eight Tests will tell you more about the Springboks 2019 prospects than the past 22 Tests under Allister Coetzee.

Coetzee’s two seasons have shown he isn’t the man to take the Springboks to the World Cup. Erasmus started this week as SA Rugby’s newly created director of rugby for national teams, including the Springboks.

Erasmus occupied a similar role at Munster and ended up being head coach and director of rugby. He proved very successful in both roles and there is no reason he can’t marry the two roles at SA Rugby.

I don’t see the point of having Erasmus back and not giving him total command of the Springboks. It would ensure that the rugby philosophy of the Springboks filters down to the other national teams, which are a part of Erasmus’s portfolio.

Erasmus, before he left for Munster, was the head of high performance in South African Rugby, with a portfolio that didn’t include the Springboks.

Erasmus worked closely with the junior national teams and Blitzboks coach Neil Powell.

He was influential in the appointment of Powell, who has enjoyed unprecedented success in the role.

Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, who specialises in defence, have a long association dating back more than a decade. The two have operated as a team and Nienaber was part of the Munster deal. He was also part of the deal for Erasmus to return to South Africa.

Erasmus historically has always preferred working with a smaller coaching management team, in which those identified fulfil multiple roles.

Coetzee’s management teams have been excessive in numbers and the current Bok coach has introduced three different defence coaches in two seasons, two backline coaches and two forwards coaches.

Erasmus, when at the Cheetahs, Stormers and Munster, always employed a more streamlined approach to his coaching staff. He is of the belief that too many cooks spoil the broth.

Erasmus, in agreeing to return to South Africa, also embraced the transformation realities associated with Springbok selection. Like it or not, there is a commitment from SA Rugby to the South African government that the team that plays in Japan will be the most representative in the history of the Springboks at World Cups.

What constitutes merit is subjective and very skewed because it very much depends who is offering the view and opinion.

Historically black players have been tagged in this country as being quota players and development players, simply by definition of skin colour. It’s crass and distasteful because no white player, regardless of limitation or sub-standard performance, has ever been categorised with an insult of simply being there to make up numbers.

For too many – and for too long now – only white players have been viewed as merit selections. It’s another of those absurdities presented as fact because of the abnormality of South Africa’s apartheid sporting past, which is still entrenched in the thinking of so many.

I don’t believe that transformation ever weakens a team. What makes any team vulnerable and poorer on the day is when poor selections are presented as a commitment to transformation.

Any Springbok team can transform and win if the person picking that team actually gets it right when it comes to player identification.

The Blitzboks in the last three years are an example of winning, transforming and playing a uniquely South African brand of rugby.

Erasmus’s Springboks can achieve a similar integration and get results.

I’ve had enough discussions with Erasmus over the last two seasons to have belief in his approach, his philosophy and in the players he feels can combine to make the Springboks strong.

I never had a similar belief in Coetzee, and didn’t need the benefit of hindsight to be a non-believer. I wrote on his appointment that it was my view he wasn’t good enough and that he would not get results.

I don’t think Coetzee is a good selector and the players he has consistently picked as the best team have produced a 40 percent winning return.

Transformation can’t be blamed because in some of Coetzee’s biggest defeats there have been 12 white players in the on-field XV taking those beatings.

Erasmus inherited a similar results shambles at Munster, one of the traditional powerhouses of Irish and European rugby. The culture was foreign to him but almost immediately he created a winning environment that was sustained throughout his tenure.

He’ll do the same in a South African culture that isn’t foreign to him, but only if he is coaching the team

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