Side Entry: SA coaches and their insular ways

Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Simnikiwe Xabanisa

When Rassie Erasmus was announced as this year’s Barbarians coach, the rugby tragics among us wondered what kind of team the man reputed to be the most meticulous coach in South Africa would pick without the usual cares that go with selecting a Springbok side.

Due to the ability to pick players from anywhere, the composition of a Barbarian team is supposed to give an indication of what kind of coach a coach is when allowed to let his hair down.

It’s meant to expose the dreamer within the coach when unencumbered by having to put a squad together to win and keep his job.

And when confronted with the relative blank canvas of having to pick a fantasy team, Erasmus showed that he dreams in green and gold by selecting no less than 13 Springboks in the match day 23 to play against Argentina at Twickenham yesterday.

Thirteen Boks? What was the intention for the Baabaas to pick and drive, kick and chase and blitz defend to a two-point win over the Pumas with their Bok DNA?

If that sounds a little disrespectful to the Boks, it is not meant to be.

It’s just that we’ve become accustomed to them grinding teams down with powerful forwards or building a bakery from the crumbs of possession they get from a workaholic defence, instead of scoring tries from the end of the Earth like the 1973 Barbarians did against the All Blacks.

Looking at the lack of big names in the rest of Erasmus’ squad, there could be mitigating circumstances behind why he chose such a Springbok Baabaas team.

The most obvious would be that, with the game not being a full international and taking place beyond the international window period, not many provincial sides or clubs felt obliged to release their players.

This would have left Erasmus with no choice but to load up on Boks as the most influential man in South African rugby.

The other reason, a conspiracy theory of sorts, is that he may well have wanted to use the match as extra preparation time with his players for next year’s World Cup.

Not to say there’s nothing but fun to be gained from playing a Barbarians game, the thinking that Erasmus is trying to sneak in an extra match for his players would only make sense if he had played all 13 of the players in the starting line-up, which he obviously couldn’t.

Be that as it may, this Baabaas episode has revealed how attached Erasmus is to his “aligned” thinking in how he has still surrounded himself with people he trusts even for a smash and giggle hit out like yesterday’s run against the Pumas.

Few people are as obsessed with having the same thinking in his teams as Erasmus, and the fact that Matt Proudfoot is the only coach he didn’t hand-pick in his management team is confirmation of that.

In all fairness to Erasmus, maybe it’s a South African coaches’ thing to only trust who they know.

We saw that with former Springbok coach Jake White, who left so many South African players at Montpellier that a month ago they had eight in their squad to play a Top 14 match despite having Frans Steyn and Johan Goosen injured.

Former Lions coach Johan Ackermann continues to revive the Leeus by signing at least one of his former players per season for his new club Gloucester, a team also nicknamed the Lions, for good measure.

Heyneke Meyer, another former Bok coach, looks to be in the throes of building a little Pretoria in Paris at Stade Français, his new team, if playing Morné Steyn at fly half and signings like Handro Liebenberg and André Warner are anything to go by.

The most successful exponent of this was former Bok centre Brendan Venter, who brought a heavy South African influence while laying the foundation that has seen the English club become the juggernaut they are.

It’s not quite the New Zealand way, where they export their brand of rugby coaching by working with the locals instead of flying in their own “locals”. This may also explain why overseas coaching stints by South African coaches are not lasting affairs, not to mention why we continue not to learn from the rest of the world.

Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

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