Can Rassie quit and keep his job?

Brenden Nel

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.

- Brenden Nel

Let's chat

  • SweetAz

    You’re setting up a bunch of strawmen here Brendan, -I don’t think the plan was ever for Rassie to be a long-term Springbok Coach, it’s an interim measure while those underlying structures are fixed and a foundation built that will enable a Professional Coach to be brought into the team enabling Rassie to step back and concentrate on his Core Role.
    He was never going to be able to do this with Alister, grapevine has said the two of them had “issues”. The turnaround of South African Rugby was predicated on the Director role being able to solidify the structures and retain/identify talent whilst a “representative squad” was built.
    I would presume the timeline to be more or less Rassie coaching up to this RWC whereupon he steps back, hopefully with a squad of about 50 “representative” players identified that can be handed over to a Pro like Vern Cotter, Joe Schmidt or Eddie Jones with THAT coach having a more defined focus without the distractions of finding players in Kyalitsha, Mamelodi and Soweto to make up a squad.
    The drol in die drinkwater is that supporters only care about the next result and why their particular province isn’t just the whole Bok team (looking at you Hermie). Lost in this white noise and hysteria is the screeching of “domkrag”, “traditional rugby”, “fast rugby”, “skills” etc etc etc. All of which is just a distraction, the fact of the matter is that SARU has committed to transformation as it’s NUMBER 1 PRIORITY. Rassie is juggling balls mouthing platitudes trying to remain competitive while he gets as many transformed players as possible into the squad. Crying about it and bitching about it is a pointless exercise,—-just understand that until we manage to find 23 rainbow coloured people who are the best in their positions in the world Springbok Rugby will remain KAK.

    • Neels uys

      Eddie Jones you must be joking

      • SweetAz

        Eddie Jones is a technician with focus on the nitty gritty, he achieved more with England than almost any other English coach has done in a 100 years,—the Bok Coach needs to be someone the politicians can’t do anything about with no baggage,—his “whiteness” must be devoid of “apartheid” baggage,—–see where I’m going with this? In effect, he must be GIVEN a squad already comprising the 50% melanin enhanced players allowing him to just focus on coaching while the DIRECTOR of rugby deals with political flak. If the Boks want to be NR1 they need a coach that is regarded in the top 4 or 5 in the world, the names I mentioned are there or thereabouts.

    • Herman Schroder?

      SweetAz, Take all the mitigating factors out of the equation and you are left with a simple reason as to why our rugby has hit the proverbial iceberg. We all know the ship is sinking but like the proverbial ‘band’ the scribes, some posters, officials, administrators, coaches etc simply play on. So my ‘simple’ reason is as follows.

      The Lions have been playing in the same environment as the other Franchises since 2014. Players leaving at times, transformation criteria to be considered, competing in SR with all it’s systemic faults, etc, etc. So why with all those negative factors have they risen head and shoulders above the rest. of the country ?. They proved that with continuity, suitably skilled visionary players and a coach who has the nous and an expansive game plan to match, you can compete with the best. What you do on the field should have nothing to do with negative external factors if your players are suitably coached and motivated.

      What have the other Franchises done over that period ? They had poor coaches, mostly unskilled players with a game plan to match and their positions on the SR logs these past few years will confirm their total lack of success when compared to the Lions. Yet they operated in the same environment. as the Lions did ? The Lions provided the blueprint but no one followed. If everybody followed in their footsteps those years ago, with everyone on the same page, we would have been in a far better place than we are at the moment.

      The same applies to Bok rugby. Poor coaches like HM and AC and now Rassie with the common denominator a conservative game plan and the majority of the players schooled in that failed confused dom krag game plan of yesteryear. The results are predictably there for all to see. Normally good and very good players are brought into a hybrid of a system and made to look ordinary on the field. That is not a symptom of extraneous problems but an on field coaching and game plan issue. Now Rassie is clearly loosing his grip and Rome continues to burn.

      SweetAz, The average Bok supporter is sick and tired of false dawns. It’s been 9 years since a trophy of any sort has been won. Coaches with the same hang ups have come and gone and some great players have even been destroyed by them. We lose tests at the rate of 2-1 at best and minnow countries now consider us fair game. Do we want more of the same ? Only one solution imo BOYCOTT SA rugby on all fronts. Let the citadel fall and the heads roll. Stop the gravy train in it’s tracks and tell the politicians to butt out. A special ‘Hermie’ Cheers.for you.

      • Greg Shark

        The lions had systems put in place by a world class coach in John Mitchell. Those systems have been maintained and improved no doubt. They pulled from the Sharks an exceptional talent spotter in Rudolph Straullei, we should never had let him leave….another Shark stalwart who’s plied coaching skills at Griquas and now the lions, again should never have allowed him to be poached….. but that’s rugby A to Z. What is very interesting is that, bar the Bulls, every franchise that was interested in JM services was ‘warned off’ him by the lions hierarchy….. and here’s the bombshell thought…I wonder why….to keep other franchises on the back foot?

        As SweetAz has pointed out….and again bar the Bulls….the lions have not won SR title….

        Your boycott solution is so ludicrous that I gulped and nearly fell off my chair…. then I began to chuckle….OK hermie off you go and boycott the game…. because obviously knowledge of politics is not your strong point…

        • Herman Schroder?

          If you want to talk history at least get your facts straight. Mitchell brought the iidea’ of expansive rugby but had nothing to do with the resurgence of Lions rugby. There were lots of coaches around who had the idea but were incapable of implementing it. The Lions finished stone last in SR in Mitchell’s last year hardly winning a game which was in fact instrumental in them being kicked out of SR to accommodate the Kings. Some powerful legacy that was, lol..

          The entire Lions setup was rebooted in 2014 without any assistance from Mitchell. You only have to look at Mitchell’s track record to see how divisive he is. Do a wikiipedia search and see how many times he has left his employment acrimoniously. The Bulls are the latest victims. Do not shower virtues on people who may not possess them. .

          If only winning a trophy means you are a great team then you know nothing about team sports old chap. But then again unless you are a Lions supporter I fully understand your frustrations at having to back a losing Franchise for so long.

          As for the boycott call, again I sympathize with you. I’m assuming you’re a Sharks supporter so if one looks at the pathetic crowds you get for the CC, SR and even TEST matches do you not think it’s already happening in your neck of the woods ??? If those few family members that do attend stay away a completely empty stadium may just wake up your administrators etc. So if falling out of your chair means hopefully the penny has finally dropped and you realize you can do something positive then my post has been worthwhile. Your silence and subservience to a broken rugby setup means your are part of the problem not the solution. Cheers.

      • SweetAz

        Give it a rest mate, the Lions have still won boggerall and the ones in the Bok team are not exactly setting the world on fire with their exceptionalism. I do agree the Citadel must fall, as Agustin Pichot has just pointed out several Unions are finding the situation unsustainable

        https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/international/107043143/test-rugby-facing-ruin-unless-changes-made-fears-world-rugbys-agustin-pichot

        What that looks like I don’t know,-either the National Unions must get stronger OR the Clubs will get stronger telling the National Unions to piss off. In that case, I foresee strong Unions LIKE YOUR LIONS withdrawing from National structures and becoming like the super Clubs we see in Football and other Sports.

        I actually like that idea because I would be far happier supporting a Franchise that doesn’t bow to poltical pressures.—let the Zombie Boks die—-they’ve been the walking dead for long enough as it is.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Agree with the politically driven comments but am still amazed at your totally misguided take on the Lions and their players. Their record speaks for itself so they don’t need defending on this or any other forum. I have written reams and reams on the subject with facts so help yourself if you feel the need. Cheers.

          • SweetAz

            The Lions are your blindspot mate, like a parent with a favourite ginger headed ugly child you are blinded to the reality that the Lions may be the best in SA but they are still kak compared to almost all the kiwi franchises. Let’s talk again after this weekend when the Stormers have klapped them. The Lions are not a blueprint for SA success, if they were they would have EASILY won 3 super rugby titles by now, —for crying out loud, they can’t even beat the Jaguares in Argentina. I do admire what they have achieved but its just one piece of a bigger puzzle. Copying the kiwi’s is not the way to beat them, you have to force them to play your game, its what the British/Irish Lions did and what Ireland did and what South Africa needs to do. It would help if we had players like Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Perenara, Franks, Kane, Retailick, Whitelock, etc etc etc but maybe we can blind them with rainbows.

    • Sharky

      Well said! I think a fundamental difference between SA rugby and NZ rugby is the unwavering support rugby administrators in NZ have from the political establishment and the general population as a whole. Rugby is a national pride thing over there and if the government were called upon to assist the national cause I have no doubt they would jump at the opportunity.

      Turn then to SA and you’ll find a totally different situation. The ANC governments meddling and outright obstructive behaviour has hamstrung the Bok cause at every possible turn. Rugby here is seen (rightly or wrongly) by the majority of the SA population as the last vestige of of apartheid – a perception that the ANC likes to perpetuate as it forms another string in their race-politics bow. Bottom-line – I’m sure that there are groups within the government (and the SA population as a whole) that would like nothing more than to see the Boks implode. And the more spectacular the implosion the better! Surely this ongoing psychological attrition can’t be good for rugby in SA?! That, combined with the sad fact that SA is now most definitely a third world country with a weakening economy, rampant violent crime and a festering-wound of a past and it’s pretty obvious why it’s rugby institutions are crumbling. They were build on first world foundations and a strong Rand (that have now shifted and collapsed) and insulated by an amateur code and national pride (which are both increasingly a thing of the past).

      So what is my point? My point is that the failures in SA rugby go a lot deeper than the rugby administration itself – meaning that no number of Rassies could ever fix things. Having the raw talent without the economy or political impetus to support it results in rugby nations like Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the like languishing at 10 and below in the IRB rankings. Sadly I believe that teams like that are illustrations of where the Boks are headed.

      • Herman Schroder?

        I agree. Boycott the clowns !! Cheers.

      • SweetAz

        Good analysis and predictions,—Ellispark will be expropriated and mielies planted before long anyway,—wonder where the Lions play then?

        • Herman Schroder?

          We’re buying Robben Island. Cheers.

        • Chris Mouton

          Bwahaha! Maybe we can transform the scrum machine into a planter? Then the players can at least practice their scrumming while planting mielies…

    • John Comyn

      Could not agree with you more.

      • Philippus Johannes Petrus Kleynhans

        I think you all are talking bull. Come to the point and find where the real problem is. Depends on your do know anything!!!!

  • John Comyn

    I’m also getting a bit tired of Rassie playing the bad cop role. We are talking about seasoned professional rugby players making school boy mistakes. Willie Le Roux knocking on 3 times in a test (this for an international F/B) or Jessie Kriel attempting a ridiculous cross-kick playing at 2nd center etc. These players should be called out by the coach when loyal supporters want to know WTF went wrong. Mallett who won 17 tests on the trot took no nonsense from players who screwed up even though the side was winning. Alex Furgeson who won everything that can be won did not take BS from any player including Renaldo. I have no idea what is said in the change room but I’m guessing nothing that’s going to hurt some sensitive little egos. It’s pretty simple fit in or f*&*& off. Rassie needs to toughen up and stop whining about getting fired, it’s wearing thin!

    • Chris Mouton

      I agree, John. The players need to pull some finger.

  • Neels uys

    I guess Rassie is not going to be the saviour of Springbok rugby. Having said that i don’t think any coach would be able to do it with the level of players we have at the momwnt.

  • Albert

    All good points. Even some valid ones from Herman.

    How can a third world country ever be expected to mix it with the big boys? Soon enough young Ruan Ackermann will be playing for England. I really don’t know what our coaching is like but when Willie and Faf failed to perform the last 2 weeks you must wonder. These are two guys who were the envy of the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps they are trying too hard to bring some life to this dead horse? I mean, they are expected week in and week out to bring the Boks back from the brink. So when they fail we all scream for their heads.

    It is time we all flog this dead horse, specially the players, their global stocks are just going down.

    RIP SA Rugby :(

    • Barry Smith

      I think you may well be right regards Faf & Willie, the pressure has mounted and week after week we leave the magic button in their corner, with the expectation of a miracle.

  • Barry Smith

    I am not really sure what the “I’ll be fired” stuff was about, but perhaps just a mechanism to get rid of Journalists looking for cracks! Give them what they want and change topic!
    He may also be in a position, latter in his tenure as Director, to have the misfortune of having to consider terminating the head coach. Under the circumstances, he would not want to be seen to have been given easier terms when he was in the hot chair.
    Perhaps there is also a message in this for us. In a way he is saying that he remains accountable for the decisions and changes he is making and that he understands that results need to come or he will in the fullness of time lose his job.
    Mark Alexander confirmed today that he would be reviewed based on the world Cup and not the All Blacks!

    • Herman Schroder?

      Mark Alexander should get fired first and then the rest of them. Cheers.

  • Barry Smith

    We spend so much time debating our own poor performance and problems, and heck there are plenty, yet we seldom stop to consider things from our opponents corner!
    The All Blacks start on Saturday as resounding favorites and rightly so, but a comment from one of their assistants “They beat England, they can play” struck a cord.
    Just how much pressure are the All Blacks feeling at the moment? I am not saying that they expect a loss, but on the other hand, they do realise that it would he a huge set back for their campaign if they were to, by some chance, lose to the Springboks on the eve of the World Cup year! The pressure must surely be mounting with every fixture as they work there way to 2019 WC.
    Our Journalists should be asking these questions and messing with their heads, just as their’s are finding out whether or coach expects to be fired!

  • Chris

    I’ve said it here before, our problems are psychological at the moment.
    I have never bought the “skills shortage/gameplan” argument put out at all these forums.
    That’s why no one seems to be able to pinpoint the reasons for our collapse as a rugby power. We were so mentally damaged by Arg./Japan/Italy that out players still hold those embarrassments in the back of their heads when they play. Something went “tilt” between those to games that we lost against Arg. and Japan.
    Its a “please God don’t let it be us who drags the jersey through the mud this time” attitude when they are on the field that you can almost see in their faces. Especially when we get hit by a try early on. That’s why we are so perplexed when a brilliant/on-form player suddenly looks like a schoolboy after he switches to the green jersey.

    Every pro golfer or tennis player will tell you that the difference between being ranked 1st and 150st is 99% mental. A 150 ranked player can beat a nr.1 any day of the week in a casual game. This is the same problem we have with our handling and decision making. It also explains players making inexplicable errors in handling and decisions in games. You cannot do these things well if you are a ball of nerves running from your own shadows.
    Whether it be Kolisi hesitating to get of his mark to catch that long throw or Willie dropping easy passes with no-one in front of him. I suspect that if you watch a Springbok practice as opposed to a NZ one, it would be hard to notice the difference in skills.

    Lets be honest , we’ve never been particularly great at playing expansive rugby.But Our players used to turn into flesh eating giants when they put on that green jersey. How many countless games have we watched were they rolled over teams on pure determination and and self belief alone. This is what has been eroded away over 3 coaching cycles.
    At the end of the day you still have 15 All Blacks in front of you. They’re not some magical team with super powers, just people who have immense confidence in themselves. It can also be taken away.
    The Springboks need to forget about the world cup or politics, pick this weekends game and go to war for 80 minutes to make a statement.

    • Anton

      Chris, you hit the nail on the head! How can we blame any coach when seasoned players make silly errors? Why is it that when these same players play overseas they are consistently world class, yet when they play for the Boks they are good for one game and then nowhere? I’m not saying Rassie is perfect or we do not have other issues in our rugby, but we play like amateurs most of the time. When we do win, we think we are world champions again, only to be brought back to earth with a shocking loss. We are sitting with a generation of players who are mentally weak. We have the players (and skill) to at least beat minnows or a struggling Australia, but saying before the game you are mentally up for it, only to go on and play like beginners, clearly shows we lack mental focus and strength. This is what makes the All Blacks lead everyone else; they can be 20 points down, they can have a bad period of play in the game, but mentally they are strong enough to know they can turn it around. Yes a winning culture is built on winning, but you have to mentally play every game as if it is your last, being prepared to “die” in battle for the team. That is how you build a winning culture. I wonder if the team has a psychologist… If they do, I hope they are *not* being told that it is just a game, you’ll get over it! I have always rated and liked Rassie, but with our coach sending out verbal signals that he does not want to coach any more because we are loosing, what message is he sending to our weak minded players…? This for me is a bigger disappointment than the Springboks shocking lack of mental fitness! From our kickers who cannot kick a sure 3 pointer, to our players who cannot catch or defend properly, it all starts in the mind. SA Rugby, please get a proper sports psychologist who can work with the team and our coach!

      • Herman Schroder?

        Most of the issues and problems you mention are in fact coach driven. If Mallett was coaching this lot we would be convinced we can beat the AB’s not hoping to keep the score down like this current bunch. A few factors missing. A strong coach with rugby nous and the ability to build a team culture and a solid expansive game plan.Couple that with an inspirational intelligent captain and you’re well on your way. At the moment we lack all those qualities and the results and poor mindset of the players are there for all to see. Cheers.

  • Dean

    Looks like Rassie is ready to throw in the towel. Wow, that didn’t take long.

  • Albert

    Can someone please let me know whether COSATU got involved during Coetzee’s period as coach?

  • Boet

    Don’t blame the coach. It’s not possible to pluck feathers from a frog!

  • Theunis

    Change the Springbok brand. Maybe steenbok or sybok.

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