Smile South Africa, the rugby gods have smiled on us. The 2019 Rugby World Cup draw could not have been kinder.
To be grouped with the world champion All Blacks and Italy is a godsend when compared to the group that includes England, France and Argentina.
South Africa's is a wonderful draw because it gives the Springboks the toughest game they will have at the competition (outside of a potential final) without the consequence of going home if they lose to the All Blacks.
By all accounts the Boks will end second, which guarantees them a playoff spot. Most importantly they avoid playing the All Blacks until a possible final.
It’s been a good week in Japan for South African rugby. The 2023 Rugby World Cup bid finally has government sanction, which would have been the only hiccup to what will be a world-class bid, worthy of being the hosts.
The 2010 Soccer World Cup showcased South Africa’s ability to host the biggest global niche sporting event - and rugby in South Africa is the beneficiary from all the stadia work done for 2010.
It has also been way too long between drinks for a World Cup in South Africa - and by extension in Africa. France will offer a World Cup bid that ticks all the technical and commercial boxes, but France is not an immersive all-out rugby experience sell. Ireland is an emotional tug at the heartstrings, but their stadia (all round) lack the quality of South Africa and France. Ditto their commercial appeal. Surely there has to be more to a bid than Guinness, those wonderfully seductive Irish accents and of course U2's Bono?
There is also the small matter of the southern hemisphere interest because awarding the tournament to France or Ireland would mean a third successive World Cup in the northern hemisphere.
South Africa is a rugby country in a way Ireland and France just have never been and this country for six weeks would be transformed into a rugby cathedral. You go to Paris for everything but rugby and you go to Dublin for more than rugby. In South Africa, you come for the rugby.
The players will know an experience that few in the professional age have, which is the experience of South Africa’s rugby culture outside of the Springboks.
Hosting the World Cup is not about the Springboks, but about playing host to the game’s elite 600 players. Hosting the World Cup is also not dependent on whether the Springboks are No 1 or No 7 in the world.
2010 had nothing to do with whether Bafana Bafana would even get past the first round. It was about showcasing this magnificent country and this country’s fanatical sporting culture.
South Africa’s sports mad public would embrace the hosting of 2023 because the track record speaks for itself. South Africa, outside of England, is the only country to have hosted the Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup and Soccer World Cup. It also hosted the Indian Premier League - with a month’s notice – after player safety fears if the 2008 event was hosted in India.
Rugby’s World Cup in 2023 will be massive for South Africa and the continent, which is World Rugby’s biggest growth point of the 21st century.
Think global when you think the hosting of Rugby World Cup. Don’t think insular and Springboks. It’s so much bigger than the fortunes or form of the South African national team.
There is so much more clarity in South African rugby than there was a week ago because of the government’s endorsement that SA Rugby can officially continue their bid for the 2023 World Cup and because the 2019 World Cup draw has been finalised.
SA Rugby now knows the expectation and it simply has to deliver.
The Springboks know what their road map entails for the next three years and because of this I’d urge South African rugby bosses to do everything in their power to entice Rassie Erasmus back to South Africa to be a part of the next World Cup campaign and to be in charge of building a team that is again ranked in the top three in the lead in to 2023.
Erasmus has been magnificent in his first season at Munster. They produced memorable performances in the Champions Cup and lost to a superior Saracens in the semi-finals. Munster also for the first time in seven years finished first in the Pro12 tournament and will host one of the semi-finals.
Erasmus, who signed a three-year contract with Munster, must be bought out of his last two seasons. Everyone knows he wants to be in South Africa. He has made no secret of his passion for SA rugby, his love for South Africa as a country and his desire to return, be it at the end of the season or at the completion of his Munster contract.
South Africa has gold in Erasmus and it must be mined. He is the Director of Rugby that South Africa currently doesn’t have.
His track record is impeccable. He has done his apprenticeship and done it superbly. Some still think of Erasmus as the excellent Springbok loose forward and among his most imposing performances came in Paris when the Springboks whipped France 52-10 in 1997.
But his achievements as professional rugby coach and his pedigree as a leader in rugby coaching are without question.
Erasmus' 13 year professional coaching career requires reflection and recognition. It’s only when you see it in print that you appreciate fully what he has achieved and why he should be back in South Africa.
2004: Vodacom Cup Head Coach: Cheetahs finished 2nd
2004: Currie Cup Technical Analyst: Cheetahs losing finalists
2005: Currie Cup Head Coach: Cheetahs champions
2006: Currie Cup Head Coach: Cheetahs champions
2007: Springboks Rugby World Cup Technical Consultant: Springboks champions
2008: Super Rugby Head Coach: Stormers finish 5th
2009: Currie Cup Senior Professional Coach: WP finish 2nd
2010: Director of Western Province Rugby and Under-21 Head coach: Stormers (losing finalists), WP (losing finalists), WP Under-21 (champions), WP Under-19 (champions)
2011: Director of Western Province Rugby: Stormers 2nd in League.
2011: Springboks’ World Cup Performance Analyst: RWC quarter-finalist
2012: Director of Western Province Rugby: Stormers 1st in League, WP champions in Vodacom Cup
2013: SA Rugby General Manager High Performance: Junior World Cup (champions), SA Sevens Series (2nd), Youth Olympics (champions), SA Schools (champions), SA ‘A’ Tbilisi Cup (champions), Springboks (2nd IRB world rankings)
2014: SA Rugby General Manager High Performance: Junior World Cup (losing finalists), SA Sevens Series (2nd), SA Schools (losing finalist), Springboks (2nd IRB world rankings)
2015: SA Rugby General Manager High Performance: Junior World Cup (3rd place), SA Sevens Series (2nd), Commonwealth (champions), Youth Commonwealth (champions), Women Sevens (Olympic Qualifiers), SA Schools (champions)
2016/2017: Munster Director of Rugby and Head Coach: Champions Cup semi-finalists. Pro 12 League winners
Get him back here, South Africa ... without delay!
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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