Johannesburg - As SA Rugby's director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus signed an unprecedented six-year contract to coach the Springboks, putting him firmly in the hot seat. He shares some of his plans for the team with Simnikiwe Xabanisa.
Was there ever a situation where somebody else might have been named to succeed Allister Coetzee, given that you came back as director of rugby?
When I came back as director of rugby, I definitely didn’t make the decision to appoint myself as head coach.
I was planning to work with the Springbok head coach the same way I did with his Junior Springbok counterpart. My plans were the same and they (SA Rugby) decided to give me the position.
You have a reputation for happily working in the background instead of being head coach. Talk us through the thinking behind a six-year contract and how you’re going to handle both jobs.
I was happy being in the background, but I didn’t create that perception; other people did. When I moved to Munster as a director of rugby and the head coach passed away after three or four games, I had to do both jobs.
I think it’s much tougher to be director of rugby at a club because you’ve got limited resources and you’re coaching every day.
In South Africa, there are only 14 Test matches during the year, so there are about 38 to 40 weeks to work on other things.
What’s nice about spending time on other things is that it gives you some control over what’s coming to you. Wearing that hat is a massive benefit and not a burden.
What are the roles of your assistant coaches?
It’s almost a routine thing for people in South Africa to say, ‘this guy is a backline coach and that guy is a forwards coach’, but if you look at the All Blacks, they just swap it around.
(Assistants) Mzwandile Stick, Pieter de Villiers and Jacques Nienaber and I are going to cover everything. Stick and I will do the attack.
People don’t realise that Stick didn’t do attack in the previous setup; Johann van Graan did. I’m very excited about Stick. People haven’t seen what he can really do.
That special thing that the current sevens team have - that work rate and enthusiasm to get into a better position - is what he brings to the table.
I’ll oversee the attack and do breakdowns, Pieter will do forwards and scrums, and Jacques will do the kicking and defence.
The target for black representation in the Springbok team is 50% for the World Cup. How are you going to achieve that when none of the franchises have?
Finding the talent is not a challenge. The challenge is hoping those boys will get enough game time so that, when they get to Springbok level, they are fit and in form. They must be able to trust you and vice versa because they’ve played 10 Super Rugby games in a season.
Sometimes that won’t be the case. That’s when we’ll have to be creative. The target states that you have to have reached 50% in all your Test matches throughout the year.
We have to make a plan. I can tell you that, for me, the most important thing is to make sure the players have game time and deal with situations that put them under pressure. The talent is there and we saw that this past weekend. There are a lot of guys coming through.
Players such as Thomas du Toit and Franco Mostert are suddenly turning up out of position, supposedly because of your advice. Should we read anything into that in terms of how you want to play?
No, you shouldn’t. At the moment, the conversation with the franchise coaches is purely about getting as much information as possible, understanding what they’re doing and giving input where we can.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin was already thinking of moving Franco to blindside flank and when he asked me, I said it was a great idea.
With regards to Thomas, if a guy wants to be a Springbok, sometimes you have to ask what the shortest way is for him to do that with guys such as Steven Kitshoff playing as well as they do.
We can share our opinions about how we see the players’ involvement at Springbok level, but it’s not our place to prescribe what the coaches should be doing.
What qualities are you looking for in a captain?
People always say we must make the nation proud. Although that’s true, you can only do that by playing really well and winning.
The captain has to understand that we must work exceptionally hard and be desperate to win. He must have the emotional intelligence to understand that, if we do those things well, the rest will fall into place. I want someone who proves that with their actions instead of saying it all the time.