Rassie Erasmus must feel like a condemned man sitting in a dark and dank cell waiting for his day of reckoning.
There’s an all black cloud hanging over him and if he were to glance at newspapers and websites, or peek at Tweets on his cellphone, he would find only tidings of impending doom.
The day the keyboard prophets are agreed upon is 15 September 2018 when the ground under the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand, might cleave open and swallow the Springbok coach.
On that day the Springboks, by then already three fixtures into the Rugby Championship, will meet the mighty All Blacks and that is when, according to the pundits, we will know whether Rassie Erasmus is truly the genius some have made him out to be.
Of course it’s the obvious proclamation. The men in black have been the nemesis of most who have gone before Erasmus and have come to be seen as the defining line between success and failure.
Erasmus is not going to put a shoulder to the scrum, hands to a turnover or foot to a kick yet he is going to be respondent number one if South Africa does fail to break the All Black hoodoo.
It’s fundamentally unfair.
Is it not time that the players took some responsibility for their performance? Shouldn’t they shoulder some blame for the losses; be responsible for the poor judgment that has cost them games; own up to the lack of skills that have often tripped them up?
I think so.
We are talking about full-time professionals on the kind of salaries that only the occupiers of the very top of the pyramid earn in our troubled land. They do nothing but practise and play rugby. They are carried on the hands of all kinds of retainers but when things go wrong, as they often have in the last few years, the coach gets the blame.
Erasmus has at his disposal four players who have captained the Springboks in Siya Kolisi, Warren Whiteley, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth who, astoundingly, is available having not played a single game of rugby in eight months.
The squad is full of players who have chipped at the coal face of Test rugby; who should know what it requires and why they have been failing.
Tendai Mtawarira has 101 caps, Eben Etzebeth 67, Francois Louw 57, Pieter-Steph du Toit 36, Siya Kolisi 31, Steven Kitshoff 27, Franco Mostert 21, Frans Malherbe 19 and Warren Whiteley 17.
Among the backs Willie le Roux has 44 caps, Jessie Kriel 32, Handré Pollard 29, Elton Jantjies 26, Lwazi Mvovo 17 and Faf de Klerk 14.
Even some of the “newbies”, such as Bongi Mbonambi (16), Malcolm Marx (14), Jean-Luc du Preez (13), Lionel Mapoe (12) and Ross Cronje (10) are no longer rookies.
Apart from this, most of the squad also have extended track records in Super Rugby. They’ve been there and done that.
So it’s time for Siya Kolisi to be as influential as Richie McCaw, for the Beast to live up to his nickname, for Etzebeth to show that he is up there with Brodie Retallick, for Willie le Roux to demonstrate that he is as good as Israel Folau and for Handré Pollard to rekindle the form he showed at Ellis Park in 2014 when he turned in a commanding performance, including scoring two tries, to guide the Boks to a 27-25 victory over the All Blacks (incidentally, the last time SA beat the old enemy).
The culture of always blaming the coach is just wrong.
To use the cliché-ridden language that is so prevalent in sport, it is time for the players to put their hands up, to man up, to give substance to their zero-errors mantra, to accept responsibility, to be accountable, in short to excel – not just a game at a time, every game for the full 80 minutes.