Rassie’s life in rugby’s fishbowl
Eager Springbok coach will need hair on his teeth
Life in a goldfish bowl is not for everyone, but it is the existence new Springbok rugby coach Rassie Erasmus has chosen for himself.
Being in the public eye 24/7, when your every move is questioned, will require Erasmus to have a hide thicker than a rhinoceros.
A much-bitten former EP coach once told me that you needed hair on your teeth to take charge of a provincial team, let alone the national squad.
The full glare of the spotlight will be on Erasmus at the 45 000-seater Robert F Kennedy Stadium in Washington DC when the Boks face Wales on June 2.
The new watchword in Springbok rugby is alignment, as Erasmus bids to make the best use of South Africa’s substantial resources.
Erasmus knows a loaded gun will be put to his head if his team are slow out of the starting blocks against the Welshmen and in a subsequent three-test series against England.
And, if there is a false start to the Erasmus era, there will be no shortage of critics lining up to pull the trigger.
Erasmus, of course, knew all this when he accepted what is probably the toughest job in world rugby.
By accepting the poisoned chalice, the 45-year-old has already shown he has the stomach for a fight.
But does he have enough time to turn things around before the 2019 World Cup in Japan?
Asked if success at the 2019 World Cup was a realistic goal, Erasmus said: “I think 2019 is a realistic goal. We have the players.
“We have the talent. We have 18 test matches before the tournament and great Super Rugby teams.
“So, I think small little tweaks and having an open conversation with the franchises will give us a realistic chance at the 2019 World Cup.”
The Despatch-born Bok, who has 36 international caps to his name, will face battles on and off the field when he attempts to build a team that can shine at the World Cup in Japan.
Already former Bok coach Peter de Villiers has questioned whether Erasmus is the messiah he is being made out to be in certain quarters.
There will be strong pro- and anti-Erasmus sentiments in the months ahead, but it is results on the field that the new man will be judged on.
Finding a core leadership group will be Erasmus’s first task as he tries to put the pride back into South Africa rugby.
Who is South Africa’s No 1 flyhalf, a question that has been hotly debated in recent times, is a hot potato that Erasmus will need to get to grips with.
In recent times, with so much chopping and changing, even the players must have felt unsure about where they stood in the pecking order.
Though Allister Coetzee’s departure was a messy affair, it was clear that the Boks needed a steadier hand on the tiller.
During Coetzee’s tenure, the Boks slipped to sixth on the world rankings and suffered record defeats to Ireland (38-3) and New Zealand (57-0).
Neither were acceptable results for two-time World champions, who were made to look like a second-tier test nation.
Erasmus returned to South Africa after a successful 18-month stint with PRO14 side Munster in Ireland, where he enjoyed great success.
The new man has had several glowing endorsements, not least of which came from former Bok centre Jaco Taute, who played under Erasmus at Munster.
“I know it’s a cliche, but Rassie has worked out his planning and strategy to the finest detail. He knows exactly how he wants the Springboks to play,” Taute said.
Erasmus, with his long-time partner, Jacques Nienaber, as his assistant, led Munster to the final of the PRO12 last year and Taute says the successful working relationship between the two will benefit the Boks.
Just how Erasmus wants the Boks to play will become apparent during the Wales and England tests.
“We currently are ranked sixth in the world so my immediate focus is to improve that,” Erasmus said.
“We’ve got 18 test matches before the next World Cup so we have to utilise each of those games.
“We have to get to know the players and the coaches, understand what’s going on and to integrate ourselves into their systems.
“We have to catch up a bit to the other teams that are ranked one to three, but we’ve started the process, and we know that we have to begin the planning now and not just wait until it’s around the time of a test match,” he said.
“Our biggest asset is that we have a tremendous amount of players and if we utilise those players well, then we can become one of the big powers in world rugby again.
“Those are the things we are looking at closely.”
It won’t be long before everyone will have an opinion on the man in the goldfish bowl.