Rassie reveals how he turned Boks into champions in 18 months

 Rassie Erasmus
Rassie Erasmus

Cape Town - Starting as national coach less than two years before a Rugby World Cup is not ideal, but Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus believes his knowledge of the South African game helped him in his task.

READ | Springboks humbled by unbelievable support upon their return home

When Erasmus was confirmed as national coach in March 2018, the Springboks were in dire straits after a tumultuous two seasons under previous coach Allister Coetzee.

The team had won only 11 of 25 Tests in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and with the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan only a year and a half away, few gave the Boks a shot at winning the title.

But Erasmus surprised friend and foe by turning South Africa into world champions.

While addressing reporters at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Erasmus explained that his familiarity with SA Rugby's structures proved valuable.

"A year and a half (before a World Cup) is a short time to appoint a new coach. But I've been in the system since 1994 when the game went professional... I went through all the different stages of semi-professionalism... and I went into coaching straight after playing..." Erasmus said.

After a two-year stint in Ireland with Munster, Erasmus returned to South Africa in 2017 when he became SA Rugby's director of rugby, before also taking over as Springbok coach the following year.

He added: "I was involved with SA Rugby since 2011. I only went to Ireland for two years so when I got back into the system it wasn't like I was totally new to South African rugby and the setup. I understood all the franchises, all the coaches, all the players... most of the guys I coached before - at either under-21 or under-20 level, Vodacom Cup or Super Rugby level. So, I guess that nullified the time span a little bit."

Erasmus will now step down as Springbok head coach to focus on his director of rugby role but the talk behind the scenes is that the new head coach will come from within the current management team.

"I think for a new coach to come in and try and do it in a year and a half - and one who has no knowledge about South Africa or the systems - that would be really tough. If it's somebody inside the system and who knows the system really well, then I guess you can maybe give him a shorter-term chance. But I think my benefit was because I never really left the system for a long time," Erasmus said.

Jacques Nienaber, the team's current defence coach, has been tipped to take over as head coach.

Nienaber and Erasmus have a long history, having first met in the army before crossing paths at the University of the Free State's Shimlas team where Nienaber was the physiotherapist and Erasmus the captain.

When Erasmus became coach of the Free State Cheetahs, he appointed Nienaber as strength and conditioning coach, with the latter later shifting his focus to the team's defensive structures.

Nienaber followed Erasmus to the Stormers and also Munster in Ireland, before starting at the Springboks last year.

- Compiled by Herman Mostert

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