Rassie, bring Ackers home!

Stephen Nell

It’s been awfully quiet on the speculation front since Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, in December last year, unexpectedly dropped the bomb that he would not continue in the job beyond 2019.

Presumably Rassie wants to focus on his job as director of rugby and concern himself with the long-term health of South African rugby. He’ll be able to do so as a man who won’t die wondering as to whether he could make a success of the Bok job.

Who then to replace Rassie, or to put it otherwise, report to Rassie?

I’ve heard the names of Deon Davids and Swys de Bruin pop up, which frankly mystifies me. Davids (who I do rate by the way) is being fired by the Southern Kings and De Bruin is struggling to cope with the stress of coaching the Lions. Nor have any of South Africa’s other present Super Rugby or Pro14 coaches achieved the success to be realistic contenders.

Why then is there not broad consensus that Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann should be a shoo-in for the job?

Last week Gloucester proudly announced that they had secured him on a long-term contract to continue with the job he started in 2017. However, there is a catch ­– the former Lions coach has a release clause in the event of an international team knocking on his door.

The man’s coaching record is second to none. The Golden Lions were a mess when he took the reins in 2013 and he left in 2017 having guided them to two successive Super Rugby finals, which they lost to the Hurricanes and Crusaders respectively. He did so with a host of unheralded players, some of whom became household names.

Ackermann left the Lions on his terms – on a high. De Bruin was at the helm of the side that made last year’s Super Rugby final, albeit partly thanks to a foruitous competition format. The ease with which the Lions dispatched the Stormers this past weekend also suggests they are in the zone with the play-offs approaching (though I don’t see them advancing to the final).

I have a deep respect for De Bruin, but his situation is not unlike that of former Bok coach Allister Coetzee, who at the Stormers and Western Province benefited from the structures Erasmus had left behind.

De Bruin is already involved with the Boks and I would like to see him as Ackermann’s chief assistant – as was the case at the Lions. No head coach could ask for a better wingman than a coach who is both renowned for his technical expertise and a decent man to boot.

Under Ackermann and De Bruin the Lions were a physically-imposing and daring side, strong in the set phases, excellent at the breakdown and devastatingly effective on attack.

The stint at Gloucester would also have made Ackermann a better coach. I interviewed him this week and he spoke about the benefits of having been challenged in a new environment and being forced out of his comfort zone. Indications are that he has done so successfully and his coaching career at Gloucester appears to be following a similar trajectory to that at the Lions.

In his first season in charge – 2017/18 – Gloucester finished seventh on the Premiership log, up from ninth the previous season. In 2018/19 they made it to third before losing to Saracens in the semi-final. Ackermann in the process proved himself an adaptable coach – able to reach players across cultural boundaries.

So for me, if Rassie sticks to the plan of stepping down, it’s a no-brainer that Ackermann should replace him. Of course, it would remain to be seen whether he would be prepared to take a pay cut and sign up for the unique terms and conditions of coaching the Boks!

Jake White would probably fancy another crack at the job, but it’s a struggle to get back into the South African system once it has chewed you up and for no logical reason spat you out. I’m also a big fan of Munster’s Johann van Graan, but of course it wouldn’t be worth his while to return to South Africa and play no more than a support role as he did under Coetzee and Heyneke Meyer at the Boks.

And what about Peter de Villiers? Just kidding!

Ackermann it is. Or should be.

- Stephen Nell

Let's chat

  • Andrew (I can already hear furiously typing responses as to why Ackers should not be the coach.)

    I completely agree Stephan

    One of the reservations that I heard expressed was that Ackers had only coached is a fairly sheltered and familiar environment. Going to Gloucester and being a success (losing to Saracens in the semi-final, is not a blemish) has proved those doubts unfounded.

    Coach Ackers with Swys as assistant would be a great combination. a team to truly take the Boks forward and evolve our national rugby identity. We would still be know for having big physical players good in the set phases and hard as nails on defence, but he would add those extra qualities that Stephan has already mentioned.

    Will the Cape Cabal let it happen though?

    • Albert

      Agree 100%. I have been calling for this appointment for ages now. Ackers is a brilliant head coach. Swys was always fantastic and even better with Ackers as his foil. I believe these two are the guys who can transform the Boks. All we need is some good succession planning at the Lions, and some good coaches at the other unions and we will regain that top 2 ability again.

  • John Comyn

    As a paid member of “the cape cabal” I would be delighted if Ackers was appointed as would most of us.

  • Nick

    Does Akkers want it?

  • Barry

    Akkers, Van Graan and Dave Wessel’s would all make suitable candidates! But, they should all be subjected to psychometric testing before being offered the job – for once SA Rugby get it right. Being successful at a lower level is not necessarily a guarantee that the candidate can perform at a higher level!

    I do not agree with the De Bruin comments however. The Springbok attack on the EOYT was poor. He should be allowed to settle and grow at the Lions.

    I wonder if Dick Muir is still interested. He had a brief stint at the Sharks last year and created 6 Springboks from none! He has about 25years of IP to offer and has already held the Springbok attack job.

    • John Comyn

      The whole piece was going well. Not a single derogatory comment about WP/Stormers. Then BAM! you suggest Muir for next Bok coach.

      • Barry

        John like an over eager puppy, quick to pounce on the unsuspecting slipper. Lol

        I am referring to the attack coach, if you read it carefully. A bit of wise old head from some one that’s been and done it before. I think not a bad idea!

        • Dean Bright

          The Sharks were actually very enterprising on attack when Muir was backline coach and Plumtree head coach. The combining of backs and forwards was great to watch. Brings back memories of Keegan Daniel and Kanko storming down the touchline.

  • Herman

    He also joined Gloucester late in the 2017/8 year. It was also Gloucester’s first time in the playoffs for eight years. And last but not least he has been nominated for Coach of the Year in the Gallagher Premiership, It’s a pity he wasn’t picked as Bok coach in 2016 in fact, he already had the nous to do the job even then. Instead poor old AC was chosen for obvious reasons, The rest is of course history. Cheers.

  • IRC

    Akkers is without a doubt the best candidate for the job. He has a record of lifting players and teams out of the doldrums and getting them to achieve more than expected.

    If SA rugby doesn’t offer him the job after Rassie I don’t think it’ll be long before another country snaps him up to coach their national team.

    Also, whoever gets the job should not have their success/failure based on a WC result, but rather on achieving and holding a top 2 in the world rankings. That to me is the true test of success.

  • Dean Bright

    Ackers for sure, he knows what it means to be a Bok. Overseas possibles, how about John Plumtree, coached in SA already and doing a wonderful job with the Hurricanes.

    • Barry

      It’s a good idea – he has global rugby perspective, but also understands local. He did however throw his name in the hat for the All Blacks job, though I doubt he is next in line.

  • Redge

    Why would Akkers take the job? Next year most top Boks will be playing overseas and the Bok job doesn’t offer any security. He is definitely the best coach to coach the Boks, if he is interested. Too much politics in SA sport will destroy rugby within the next year or two. No coach can handle the stress of coaching the Boks it’s just too much BS.

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