A number of questions surfaced this week when Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus surprisingly told media in New Zealand that Saturday’s Test could be his last.
The comments came unsolicited and it’s still rather perplexing why Erasmus raised the subject at all. But the questions linger, and social media has had a field day with them.
For instance, did Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus slip Coach Rassie Erasmus a message warning him of the impending doom? What will Coach Erasmus’ answer be when Director of Rugby Erasmus quizzes him on the comments? And if he is fired – will Director of Rugby Erasmus do the firing? Or who will Director of Rugby Erasmus decide on to replace Coach Erasmus?
All of these are rather nonsensical of course, but they show the underlying problems in the South African model of rugby where the malaise is deep-rooted and should never come down to the “shop window” – as SA Rugby president Mark Alexander calls it – of the Springboks on the field.
After all, we tend to whip ourselves into a frenzy every year ahead of the All Black Test, and judge whoever is coach by the highs and lows of the game against the men in black when we fail to be honest and realise just how far our game has fallen behind our traditional rivals in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
The All Blacks have surged forward and are becoming stronger by the day, leaving the rest of the world scratching their heads as to how they will catch up to the New Zealanders before next year’s Rugby World Cup.
But back in SA, we talk about building depth in a national team, and of skill-sets that aren’t there and which cost us in Brisbane. We are overwhelmed by the belief that our rugby should be better, but we never address the concerns at the base that make us such a schizophrenic team to watch.
And part of that problem has to come back to Rassie. Whether you like or dislike the man, Erasmus has been touted as the saviour of SA Rugby by those who believe in him, the man that will sort out the Boks.
But what we’re finding more and more is that he is, just like any other Springbok coach, a victim of the system he works in. Erasmus may have creative ideas, but in a country where rugby is struggling – and that has almost more players plying their trade in Europe and Japan than locally – it will always be a difficult task.
Before we excuse Erasmus completely, we shouldn’t forget that he was Director of Rugby during Heyneke Meyer’s term and then again at the end of Allister Coetzee’s term. And now, when rugby’s structures are creaking under the strain of disillusionment in the game, his focus is on the Springboks and not on the structures that keep the Boks from getting ahead.
Erasmus had time as DOR to make begin sorting out the structural problems in SA Rugby but – whether it was his fault or not – he never did. Instead it was he who championed the 30-Test rule and then dropped it when he came into the job.
And now, as the Boks face their most difficult task, it is Erasmus talking about being fired – without the pressure normally associated with Bok coaches from the media and fans. It is a card that may have been played to win sympathy, but it is a card that can only be played once before losing its impact.
To be fair, Erasmus has moved behind the scenes to implement a new contracting system that should get the green light post 2019 when teams will be limited to squads of 45 and the unions will be split between franchises and semi-professional outfits. But the system is years too late and we are now doing what countries like England and Ireland are seeing the benefits of having done years go.
Erasmus does his cause no good when stories come out of him wanting to help coach the Bulls while donning several other very important hats in SA Rugby.
Make no mistake, SA Rugby needs a Director of Rugby that is hands on and can address the structural and other problems the game is going through now. It is a job that is often understated but is so much more important than many realise.
Erasmus is finding out that the expectation is there for the team to win – right or wrong, fair or unfair – and this will determine how he will be seen going forward. But if he is fired, where does that leave Erasmus in terms of the Director of Rugby position? Can he, with a tainted reputation return to the post without a backlash?
Saturday may answer one question about where the Boks currently are in world rugby, but it is unable to address the deeper, more urgent problems in our game.
SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby needs to concentrate on fixing these problems and stop talking about losing his job.