If you put your Springbok thinking-cap on, Rassie Erasmus taking over as Bulls coach is a great move.
Michael Cheika was still the Waratahs coach when he guided Australia to the final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and he continues to reap rewards from that stint because he’s got a good relationship with the Waratahs players who are important to the Wallabies.
Cheika dropped Bernard Foley this year, shifted Israel Folau to centre and made Michael Hooper the captain, and all of those things were easier to do because of his background as the Waratahs coach and his history with those players.
The Bulls have just signed Duane Vermeulen, who followed Rassie from the Cheetahs to the Stormers and was almost named the Bok captain earlier this year.
Jesse Kriel, RG Snyman, Embrose Papier, Trevor Nyakane, Lood de Jager, Handre Pollard and Warrick Gelant are others based at Loftus Versfeld, and the Boks would benefit from having them working with the national coach on a weekly basis.
Cheika’s Waratahs assistants are now with the Wallabies. Rassie could also develop a pathway for his Bulls assistant coaches, helped by members of the Bok management team like Jacques Nienaber. In a lot of ways, this would satisfy the demands of Rassie’s role as South Africa’s director of rugby because he would spend part of the year upskilling coaches for the future.
Victor Matfield only lasted a short while as a coach at the Lions, but working under Rassie for a season would give him a chance to prove he’s ready to be a head coach, and it would give the decision-makers at the Bulls a chance to see him in action before they make up their mind.
Being hands-on with a Super Rugby team would also allow Rassie to try a few things against the New Zealand teams before the World Cup.
There will be a mass exodus of players after next year when Springbok contracts are replaced by match fees. A player who currently has a dual contract worth R3m (with half covered by his union and the other by his Bok contract) can’t be expected to stick around after he loses 50 percent of that guaranteed income.
While the match fees are set to be inflated, the reality is that very few players will feature in every Test, every year and that means the change in payment structure actually encourages players to go overseas.
Vermeulen and Marx are star players and neither of them have appeared in every Test this year, so why would they stay in South Africa? Duane only signed at the Bulls for one year and that’s a clear indication that the switch from long-term Bok contracts to match fees has influenced his decision.
I find the change very puzzling. Two of the smallest rugby-playing nations in the world, New Zealand and Ireland are first and second on the rankings. Their coaches and players are all paid by the head office and they have to stay in the country to play for the national team. So why would we go in completely the opposite direction?
The central control in Ireland is why Ruan Pienaar had to leave Ulster so that they could blood another Irish scrumhalf, and why the IRFU shifted flyhalf Joey Carberry from Leinster to Munster.
In New Zealand, a guy is moved from the Highlanders to the Crusaders and depth is created when another player from North Harbour gets a shot to play for the Highlanders in Super Rugby.
That’s the equivalent of finding a Tukkies prop to play for the Stormers, or a club rugby player from SWD getting promoted into the Lions squad on a one-year contract. It’s common practice in New Zealand and it creates competition, depth and eventually a better national team.
How do we intend to compete with New Zealand and Ireland when we’re moving further away from that model? And why would we go that route?
You can’t expect a player to stay in South Africa for half the money, especially when he can go overseas and still have a chance to earn an inflated Bok match fee.
And the problem goes beyond the number of players who will move north. At Verblitz, we were asked to release Gio Aplon outside of the November Test window so that he could fly to Cape Town last week to process a visa for France. I’m not sure how many European clubs are going to allow that with multiple players every season. And if those clubs don’t accommodate the Boks, then we will have players arriving in camp on the Monday of game week, which isn’t enough time to prepare to win a Test match.
But if Rassie signs on to coach the Bulls there is a chance that he will be able to convince key players not to leave. Maybe his influence as the national coach would keep some of the key talent in South Africa and ensure that Rassie doesn’t spend every May and October begging overseas clubs for an early release of his squad.