When it comes to the progress the Springboks have made, eighteen months ago – when Rassie Erasmus took his first press conference as what we understood to be the Boks’ head coach in a borrowed jacket – seems a lifetime ago.
But according to an SA Rugby statement which followed a few weeks later, the head coach position was as temporary as the borrowed jacket as his real day job, the one most of us whinged about him getting a six-year contract for, the director of rugby post.
The broad strokes of the press release were that Erasmus would guide the Boks to the ongoing World Cup before handing over the reins to someone else.
Looking at the strides the Boks have made under Erasmus, about the only person who would like Rassie to focus on his day job once he’s done in Japan is Mrs Erasmus, who, one presumes, would like the lawn to be mowed by the man of the house once in a while, instead of reading about whatever local rugby team he’s seconded himself to.
Consequently, speculating about Erasmus’ successor as head coach – what with his team looking to make itself comfortable in Japan at the hosts’ expense in today’s quarterfinal – may come across as premature.
But in keeping with what we were told last year, Erasmus should spend the remainder of the year looking for a man after his own heart to take over coaching the Springboks.
Of the current Super Rugby coaches, two of the three that are incumbent – John Dobson (Stormers) and Sean Everitt (Sharks) – will be making their coaching debuts in the competition, while the Bulls’ Pote Human, with respect, doesn’t scream Bok coach.
Having recently parted ways with Swys de Bruin – who left Erasmus high and dry by leaving his consultancy at the Boks less than a month before the World Cup – will probably end up with another greenhorn in Ivan “Cash” van Rooyen.
There is Johann van Graan, whose arrival at Munster to replace Erasmus hinted at his having been recommended by the older man, but he hasn’t looked anywhere near to restoring the Irish team to its heady days as European champions.
This leaves us to look within the current coaching team. Matt Proudfoot is known to want to graduate to head coach after the World Cup, but he is unlikely to be Erasmus’ man given that he is the only member of the Bok coaching team who wasn’t handpicked.
One gets the impression that Mzwandile Stick, who has already been thrown in at the deep end, is being slowly developed, so the one person that comes under the spotlight is defence coach Jacques Nienaber.
A friend of the Bok coach from their army conscription days, the physiotherapist-cum-defence guru is Erasmus’ most trusted lieutenant – and few people are more loyal to rugby relationships than Erasmus (ask Stick) – and has already been doubling up as the head coach’s eyes and ears on the pitch as well as the first respondent physio on the field.
The pros of the decision would be the continuity of Erasmus’ philosophy, that as director of rugby he’d have the alignment he obsesses over, and that most defence coaches have historically made good head coaches.
But the elephant roaming the room is that Nienaber has never been head coach before. The problem is that in South Africa there are numerous precedents, the most recent being Van Rooyen’s promotion from Lions conditioning coach to head coach in last year’s Currie Cup.
Long story short, Erasmus – who may yet be tempted by coaching the Boks against the British and Irish Lions in 2021 – has to sell the call. His track record and a satisfactory World Cup would grant him that consensus, so don’t be shocked if Nienaber is the new Bok coach.
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