Is Rassie writing cheques he can’t cash?

Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Ever since he was announced as the Springbok coach, the one thing Rassie Erasmus has done particularly well is to get people to see things his way.

From the unprecedented six-year contract, getting buy-in from the franchises to being given carte blanche on selecting overseas-based players, Erasmus has come across as a man able to come to a negotiated settlement, a regular deal-maker, if you will.

But 11 Test matches into his tenure as Bok head coach, you have to ask at what cost those deals are coming. One of the regular occurrences over the international season has been that we haven’t always had a clue when the England-based players were available to play for the Boks.

There have only been two Tests – against Wales in June and England last weekend – outside the international window, yet there has been endless conjecture about whether England-based players Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux and Francois Louw were available.

Watching De Klerk in his civvies at Twickenham last Saturday brought up the question of what good all of Erasmus’ wheeling and dealing was if he still couldn’t get the scrumhalf and Le Roux, two of his most important players this season, to play in a game as critical as the England Test.

And not to suggest it’s what they did, but what was to stop the English clubs from doing their bit for England by not releasing two players who would have made a difference at Twickenham?

The elephant roaming the negotiations room is the constant squad presence of 37-year-old hooker Schalk Brits, who was convinced out of retirement by Erasmus and has only one appearance from the bench.

We keep hearing that Brits is there to impart experience on the young props in the Bok team, but how well can he do that without actually playing? And if it can be done without actually getting on the field, should he not be consulting rather?

If ever there was a game in which Brits should have been involved, surely it would have been against England, where two of the lineout forwards – Maro Itoje and George Kruis – were his teammates at Saracens.

Another decision that has a ‘payback-time’ feel to it is Thomas du Toit’s sudden emergence as a loosehead prop again. Having been convinced that the fastest way into the Bok team was via his schoolboy position of tighthead, Du Toit found himself going to the back of a lengthening queue, owing to his inexperience.

Judging by some of his comments, he’d resigned himself to another two years of learning his craft before fighting for a starting role. But the moment Beast Mtawarira was injured, Du Toit was suddenly the reserve loosehead prop behind Steven Kitshoff.

One doesn’t know if the bulge currently has the upper hand in its battle with Trevor Nyakane, but one would have imagined the Bulls prop – a more natural loosehead who has handled both Kitshoff and the destructive Wilco Louw on both sides of the scrum this year – was the first cab off the rank.

The old SA rugby bugbear of transformation is another area where Erasmus may have signed cheques he can’t cash. When his tenure began he said the black talent was there, it just needed game time in pressure situations.

Yet the more must-win the games have become, Erasmus has copied his Super Rugby counterparts by seeking to have seven black players in his playing 23, where he started with about 10 or 11. The best example that he’s a little gun-shy of giving game time in pressure situations is the use of halfback Embrose Papier.

Papier, who has played as many games at scrumhalf as he has at wing, has mostly been introduced after the 70th minute or not been introduced at all, which screams a lack of trust in his ability.

To be fair to Erasmus, coaching the Springboks is a negotiated settlement at the best of times. The question is whether he’s making a rod for his back with some of the deals, and some may say compromises, he keeps striking.

- Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Let's chat

  • Barry

    Not much to argue here. The honeymoon is over and as his tenure proceeds so the pressure increases. The staunch believers start to ask questions and frankly there are many!
    The Britz issue was quite emotive for many of us. Erasmus’s failure to reward Akker VDM for an outstanding Currie Cup, was to say the least alarming! Had this been a transformation call, there may have been some cause for the decision, but that’s not the case. One player is on fire the other is trying to retire!
    There are many other such calls such as the exclusion of Jean-luc Du Prees, a specialist 7, whilst we instead plays Thor out of position and leaves Notshe in the wilderness!
    He is a very astute coach, we can but trust I guess

    • Stephen

      Quite frankly, Rassie’s influence on the positiveness of the team and the increasing skills is easily seen. What cost the Boks both the match at Loftus and Twickenham was bad leadership decisions and execution of play. The games were lost on the field not the drawing board.

    • Greg Shark

      Barry it appears that Rassie has a memory vz reality conflict! As pointed out in the article Akker was a shoo in, Brits is on pension already and the loss to England is probably indicating that he does not add value as a player/team member (he did not even sit on the bench).
      Nyakane tends to ‘blow up’, gets over weight and loses mobility – though to be honest his work rate has never impressed me…. maybe his bulk in the scrum has been his saving grace? I’m inclined towards du Toit because he too has the bulk but is far more mobile and industrious about the field.
      The overlooking of J-L du P is an irritation that will serve to lessen the Boks effectiveness in time, Notshe as shown in CC final is athletic but offers little. Thor MUST be restored to 8 where is most impacting! This slipping players around the loose trio positions smacks of attempts to accommodate ‘best pals’….. consider what value Louw brings….any? Yet he’s on the bench this weekend!

      • Sharky

        I totally agree Greg. If Britz is there in more of a mentorship role and is unlikely to get a start then why not bring him along as a consultant, not a player! That way Akker could have been in the mix. It’s not rocket science.

      • Barry

        We’re on the same page Greg! Some selections just don’t seem to add up.

        Was a little bemused to also read this morning Rassie’s explanation that Damien Willemse will get another chance during the tour. Why does he feel compelled to report on Willemse specifically? It is almost as if he has to give someone justification for his exclusion from this weeks mix. Why no mention of Andre, Lood, Ivan, who also missed out this week, is it that they are finished for the year, or that there’s no pressure from somewhere to select them. Something not quite right here!

        • nezo

          Something not quite right here!

          thats so funny! but i hear you very well

        • John Comyn

          Did it occurred to you that he may have been asked the question in the presser?

          • Barry

            It did indeed, but then as a good manager, he would have treated all his troops in the same way, by touching on all bases not just one, but he didn’t!
            Willemse is getting preferred treatment for some reason or the other, that is for sure!

  • Matt

    Patience and thinking beyond the field of play are not a particularly strong characters traits of South African rugby fans.

    To expect over night (within 12 months) fix of what took between 2-10 years to snap in half (depending on your opinion of when things starting going wrong), it quite something. That Rassie has already turned the corner regarding the sorts of expectations the fans have of the team shows the level of progress that has actually been a achieved.

    As for selection of senior players. Key issues of AC’s tenure was lack of exposure for young players, to learn from seasoned experienced pro’s. Looking beyond the field, listening to the comments from the players within the squad and their opinion of such selections, its pretty obvious the reason for many of these selections.

    As for selection of players out of position. Considering the generally poor form of our provincial sides against their Aus and NZ counterparts in SR, inspite of the obvious talent being fielded by our local teams, surely it is conceivable that potentially some of those struggles could actually be because our franchises are getting it wrong, rather than the national coach. Let’s be honest, outside of the Lions performances, the national team, although suffering losses, have been head and shoulders more competitive than what their performances in SR would’ve made one expect at the start of the season.

    • Greg Shark

      I don’t believe Bok fans expect an overnight transformation into world beaters but what I’d expect is at least consistent progress instead of one foot forward two feet back as we presently endure.

      Selection of players – no debate here, the two on form red hot firing on all cylinders players were left at home – Akkers and J-L duP for players that are not up to scratch. When you listen/read comments from players in the squad just remember that these are heavily ‘redacted’, they won’t expose what going on in their heads…..certainly aren’t comments to rely on as gospel truth reasoning for selections….you pay me I say what management dictates.

      Selection out of position – have SR franchises got it wrong again this year? interesting because the Sharks have been successful against NZ teams and tend to slack off against lesser teams (and then either draw or lose). The lions have been beaten by the SR Sharks this year (finally after a number of close calls) which serves to temper a view of the lions being the beginning and end of SA teams performances. YET in all this what ‘poor form’ should exclude on form all season players? BUT players certainly not showing good form are selected? It is very confusing for fans to understand just why certain players gain selection while others get left out …..

      • Matt

        Also, if the players weren’t happy, as imply, that their comments being heavily redacted, you wouldn’t be seeing the sort of commitment we’ve been seeing on defence. Basic psychology, which was very apparent the previous seasons with AC, where the lack of commitment was evident and completely contradicted any comments about players being happy.

        This time around. The commitment and passion is palpable. Let’s leave the tinfoil hats out of things this time around shall we.

        • Greg Shark

          “basic psychology”…”tin foil hats”…..?

          Psychology itself will not produce a winning team, the 1st and most important ingredient is players with talent, skill and experience. This year the coaching personal are different and produced more player confidence, players refreshed with new (and some pensioners) and important I think is that the fan base is a bit more forgiving up to now…. lack of commitment may have played a part but I think it was more the inability of players to do the basics right leading to dropping of heads.

          Tin foil hat (conspiracy) – well if needing to understand why certain players gain selection while others get left out leads to ‘theories’ then let it be so, ‘cos enough theories that abound will eventually toss up some truth….

    • Barry

      Sorry Matt, but I just don’t get your point about playing players out of position. Are you suggesting that he is forced to play players out of position because there are no good player coming out of the Franchises to play in those positions?
      By the bye, it was not only the Lions that made SR play off’s the Sharks were there as well – both came away empty handed!

      • Matt

        Interesting to see how ‘difficult’ to understand my comments are for folks.

        By the franchises getting it wrong, I mean, just that, that the talent is obvious, and that the players not succeeding, appearing off form, isn’t about form, or skill, but the coaching at franchise lvls.

        Getting it wrong could well include players being out of position at franchise lvl rather than at national.

        And yes, we’ve lost. And yeah, its been a frustrating year with some of the losses, but again, patience seeing beyond the merely the playing field. One cannot and must not ignore how and why losses happen, and coupled with that, need be sure see reality rather than personal blinkers/bias.

        The losses suffered so far have not been talent or skill, they’ve been learning experiences. They were expected at the beginning of the year, yet now, with some easy wins and some against the grain wins, suddenly those learning experiences, those expected losses are getting viewed at 2 steps backwards?

        If the players being selected were proving as ineffective as their SR and Currie Cup form suggests, we’d be getting hidings, not this competitive games and unexpected victories. Before the Northern tour started, we were written off. Now, we put up a fight, with experience, both as individuals as well as time together really proving the factor.

        As with any team sport, the point is to find parts that you can mesh together for a sum worth greater.

        And also, what blows my mind is the constant provincial bias and hypocrisy see in SA discussions. Currie Cup form is worthless, as watered down when your favourites not picked, but are considered the better players during SR. And then, form is being ignored, when the top performers during currie cup are ignored, over those who didn’t perform during CC but were more consistent during SR etc etc. The argument never changes, every year the same. The only thing that changes is which side of the argument people find themselves, due to where their prefered personal choices fall in the debate this time around.

        • Keith

          Hold on gents…what’s this rubbish of learning experience!!!Rassie got a blank cheque…luxury other coaches (ALISTAIR) never had…now the Boks can’t even hold a ball…the basics lost …we currently lack basic skill…no flair…Boks looks a beaten side before even started…I also agree what’s the issue with Papier…

        • Barry

          Sorry Matt, still don’t get it about the Franchises getting it wrong? The discussions above have pretty much been about players that are in position and are in form, but they have been overlooked. Akker VDM is a good example. He had excellent form at SR level and was rewarded with a Springbok call up. He followed up this form into Currie Cup where he managed three “Man of the Match” awards in a shortened format. That takes some doing! But instead of getting the reward he was due, he gets ousted by some guy that has played 15 minutes of rugby in two months and has no recent form to call on. That doesn’t sit very well with a lot of people!

          Both Super Rugby and Currie Cup are used to determine player form and related selection for National duty, not one or the other. Though the Currie cup may be a bit watered down, it is the only mechanism that the National selectors have to determine mid year form, and they certainly use both! You will recall that, Petersen , Schickerling and Nel were all given call ups based on Currie Cup form. As I recall, none of these guys were actually in the Stormers squad!

          Where players are consistently selected based on current form, there is usually very little Provincialism in play. However, when this is not the case, then questions are asked and this is more often than not determined as provincialism, but in reality it is just questioning why form players are being overlooked. A good example is that I have been very vocal in suggesting that SP Marais should have got a call up based on blistering Currie Cup Form, but I am not a Province supporter!

      • albert Hoffmann

        bye the bye barry, what did the stormers come away with from SR, bearing in mind they make up 90% of this team. F all!

        • Barry

          Agreed, doesn’t quite add up does it!

          • Herman Schroder?

            I’ve read this debate with some interest. In many of my posts of pointed out that Rassie is trying to please everyone and is slowly but surely painting himself into a corner. He has even recently said that he may not be picking any further overseas players leading up to the WC which further confuses the situation even further. In the end he’ll satisfy no one and we will see precisely what has happened so far. I’m posting my response later this morning to the writer and you which may debunk some of your theories. Cheers.

  • John Comyn

    He also needs to balance the books and that means getting the win ratio in the positive. So I can understand the reasoning behind some of his decisions. He is under immense pressure to win while getting the transformation right as well as giving players experience before the WC. We were all ready to lynch him after the losses to the Pumas and OS until he got out of jail with the AB win. He’s right back in the firing line again. I agree with Sim on Brits and also cannot see how he adds value. I also agree that Trevor should have made the match 22 against England and France. I think he did enough in his last 2 CC games to prove he is back and ready to go. I don’t rate Thomas but I also don’t know anything about front rowers! He has to play Faf when he is available and he played van Zyl last week based on the condition where his style is more suited than Papier. To say he is not giving Papier enough game time is a bit harsh. He got game time last week and is on the bench this week.

  • boyo

    Not sure that Trevor is a better LH than Thomas but that is a personal preference the balance of the article is all valid.

  • Wayne

    I don’t think what Rassie is doing is much different to what Jake White did. (Yes the coach we love to hate) the only difference is Rassie does not have the luxury of time, 4yrs vs 1. Jake pulled in key players as has Rassie, Os and Percy vs Faf and Willie. Who can forget Marius Joubert’s performance against NZ, a shoe in to the World Cup squad only for the emergence of Jaque Fourie. As with the current team the inside Center was of not use to anyone in dewet Barry but thankfully Jean De Villiers appeared, I’m not sure Andre or DDA are any better than Barry on a good day. Players were tried, combinations given a go. Butch James is the only World Cup winning flyhalf never to kick at posts and no one looking at history would have given us a chance with him at 10. Danie Roussouw and PSDT bounces between lock and loose forward. Come next year our pack will match any on its day and maybe Robert Du Preez will be the next butch james, pollard our fill in Frans Steyn we just need to hope for a half decent Jaque Fourie at 13.

  • SweetAz

    I think we all need to just give Rassie time and relax. His attitude, candour and coaching credentials are all positive. The man is in a unique situation no other coach in world rugby has to face and believe me there is NO INTERNATIONAL COACH IN THE WORLD WHO WOULD SIGN UP FOR WHAT HE HAS. So yes he may be bouncing cheques but its the reality of the position SARU has placed him in. Any coach in the world has to operate within the framework of the National Union and the cattle available to him.

    Look at Hansen and his predecessor Graham Henry,—coaching Wales they achieved sweet F-all, now they are lauded as the best coaches in the world. What changed,–2 things mainly.
    1. A National Union committed to central contracting with a nationwide strategy and control of rugby through all the levels.
    2. As a result of this centralized cohesive structure, a production line identifying and producing cattle of the highest quality.

    IRELAND has adopted the NZ blueprint and is number 2 in the world, -surely that’s not a coincidence? So instead of crucifying Rassie lets treat the disease (SARU) instead of the symptoms (coaches and players). That said, I don’t understand the Britz vs Akker situation either and perhaps someone should just ask Rassie straight out instead of sniping and speculating, so far the guy has been forthright and honest with his answers and there may be valid reasons not apparent to outsiders.

    • Herman Schroder?

      True but then he took the job knowing the pitfalls and gets paid handsomely for his troubles. Like any coach you get judged on your win ratio at the end of the day. So he made himself the target and must now put up with the arrows. Mark my words he is overrated. Cheers.

      • SweetAz

        So why don’t you go coach the boks then mr know-it-all? Why don’t you name just one coach in the world who would take the bok job? All we ever hear from you is the same shit day in and day out. If you can’t see that this team is at least 50% better than AC’s team then you are seriously retarded.

        • Herman Schroder?

          I repeat. 2017- AC lost 4 out of 13 tests. In 2018 Rassie lost 6 in 11 tests so far. Yeah right, 5 countries may beg to differ with you with three still to come. Your standards seem to be pretty low old chap. Cheers.

  • Herman Schroder?

    The writer has hit the nail on the head which supports my theory that Rassie is like a blind chicken pikking away and occasionally finding the odd tit bit. His record, so far no matter what the bleeding hearts may have to say, is unacceptable.

    1. Overseas players should never have been included in the first place. It’s making Rassie’s transformation targeting almost impossible. Why do you think Aplon and Kolbie were brought in ? To help offset the predominantly ‘whit’e mercenary intake so far is my opinion.

    2. Transformation targets are in any case not successful, not that I agree with the concept anyway. With only 6 tests left to get the 50% minimum in place, how is he going to juggle numbers and game time before the WC ??
    Can’t be done without disrupting continuity.

    3. In addition the overseas players ( despite Faf and Willie saving us in the England series ) add nothing to the concept of building a team culture based on a sound game plan and continuity which is something the writer didn’t touch on.

    4. Thanks to Rassie provincialism has reared it’s ugly head again and as can be seen on this site and his preference for anything ‘Stormer’ is at the heart of the problem. The Sharkette supporters seem to be claiming some headway in their game but try to do so by putting the Lions down. This is unfortunate because their is simply no comparison with the one team getting to 3 SR Finals in a row and the other fading in the QF’s three times. But in fairness they at least have become more ‘competitive’ just like the Boks, competitive but no cigar.

    5. Game plan or lack thereof. It was HM’s and AC’s achilles heel and after last Saturday’s debacle Rassie is suffering the same fate. Take away two overseas ‘skilled’ players and the Bok backline is a creative nightmare. Yet the same old suspects, Pollard, Kriel ( who ? ), DDA and AE get other chance to plod out their wares today. Rewarding mediocrity is the order of the day.

    6. Oh and just to remind some folk, poor old AC only lost 4 tests out of 13 in 2017. ER has now lost 6 out of 11 SO FAR. So why did Rassie not build on 2017 before inviting half of England to come help us out with no visible improvement ? Before you say it, please forget Wellington it WAS an aberration.

    Yes I do repeat myself but it’s hard not to do so when nothing changes in Bok rugby. Cheers.

    • Barry

      Hermie, a number of your points have merit or at least are discussable, but you deliver it in such a way that people feel the need to respond with some considerable force – perhaps your having fun, who knows?

      1. In an ideal world Overseas players should be excluded, no argument, but we don’t have an ideal world, so they’re with us for a while to come. Can we perhaps accept that – it is the state of play that we are having to live with.
      2. If you can think of any additional guys of colour that are able to make it at National level, then lets discuss that – it is easy to criticise, but it only adds value if you can come up with alternatives. Erasmus has also had some bad luck with the EOYT. Beast is injured, as is Am, Mpimpi, Galant, Mapoe(?), and Nyakani is just finding his way back after a long injury. Add to this Willemse and Papier, that have not developed as quickly as I think he hoped they would. That would add a further six guys of colour in the New Year, and at least half of them would start.
      3. The Team culture is build from a diversity of different Provincial players, so how does that differ if some come from clubs rather than Provincial sides?
      4. Provincialism, most would agree with you, but let focus on which players have been overlooked, rather than the colour of their strip! We can put the gloves back on when SR 2019 arrives and the Sharks kick the Lions Backsides!! Lol
      5. I think the game strategy has been good, if not excellent, we came very close to putting new Zealand away twice! It is the execution by certain players that is lacking. Not sure why you have a go at Andre Esterhuizen. His stats are good but he has only had 10 minutes in the last four matches. Give the guy some space!
      6. AC had the benefit of a three year plan, so he could introduce new players slowly. Erasmus does not have that luxury.

      Have a good one. Boks by 12?

      • SweetAz

        Good reply, —-you have a lot more patience than me.

    • Greg Shark

      was that your theory ‘debunking’ response that you promised… Cheers? Disappointing!

      ‘ol hermie….. lions made three SR finals, got handed their backsides three times (not even competitive and no cigar)….a few other SA franchise teams have a far better record than that…..times are a-changing…..only plausible reason to “put the lions down” would be a counter balance to ‘ol hermie’s constant putting down of all teams not lions….seems you beginning to notice the change?

  • charlie harvey

    This columnist makes it very clear that he has no rapport with Coach Rassie Erasmus. Perhaps if he had entered into dialogue with Erasmus, he would have been writing this column by way of providing answers rather than posing questions.

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