Johannesburg – Forget Eddie Jones and co in the Six Nations, John Mitchell et al in Super Rugby or Deon Davids and the boys in the PRO14, the busiest coach (or is that director of rugby?) in the game this minute is, apparently, Rassie Erasmus.
According to reports, Erasmus has been hard at work doing the Springboks’ planning for the year, going on fact-finding missions to Europe and having conversations with Bok players based there about returning to South Africa or the way forward.
As we speak, Erasmus may or may not be testing a faulty spring in one of the Japanese hotel beds on which Eben Etzebeth or Pieter-Steph du Toit will be sleeping during next year’s World Cup in that country.
That he hasn’t officially been appointed or formally announced as Allister Coetzee’s replacement as Bok head coach – we were told that would only be done at the end of the month – doesn’t seem to matter.
It also appears irrelevant that SA Rugby sold us the idea that Erasmus returned from Ireland to be behind the scenes as director of rugby. The general, not to mention happy, narrative is that Rassie is here and, as the Aussies say, she’ll be alright from here on in, mate.
If you don’t believe it, the rumour that Erasmus intends to bring back former Blitzboks captain Mzwandile Stick as part of his Bok coaching team (and by now one has learnt to take Rassie rumours as fact) is an intriguing case in point.
A couple of years ago, former players, the media, pundits and the public were tripping over themselves to find new ways to describe how out of his depth Stick was in Coetzee’s Bok set up. Now it seems the general consensus among the same detractors is that Rassie will “make a real coach” out of Stick.
The seamless nature of the reshuffle from Coetzee to Erasmus – what has happened is so similar to what happens in government that there’s no other word for it – suggests the former wasn’t too far off the mark by claiming in his 19-page letter to his bosses that this was the plan all along.
The result is that Erasmus, who has to have the most open-ended job description and brief in world rugby at the moment, has become such an influential figure in South African rugby that one isn’t sure if it is he or chief executive Jurie Roux who runs it.
This brings us back to Erasmus’ supposed day job as director of rugby. What happens to that while he helps the Boks make a belated run for contenders at next year’s World Cup? (As an aside, has a director of rugby anywhere in the world ever been this prominent?)
Whatever it was called in the past, the job was frozen for two years while it awaited his return from Ireland. Now, in all likelihood, it will be put on ice again while he is interim Bok coach until the conclusion of the World Cup next year.
By the end of next year, SA Rugby won’t have had a director of rugby – a position that probably translates into “head of market development and research” in the corporate world – for almost four years.
Yet we’re constantly baffled as to why our structures not only aren’t properly in place, but by the fact that they also can’t seem to engender any kind of sustainable success.
If there will be an interim director of rugby, the chances are that he’ll be handpicked by Erasmus so there will be no friction when he returns from doing his national duty. There is also talk that he’ll be heavily involved in deciding on and/or grooming the new Bok coach, which can only further outline the levels of influence bestowed upon him.
At this juncture, I’ll declare once again that I believe Erasmus to possess the kind of rugby mind that has never seen the inside of a box. But I’m at a loss as to quite how he has earned the extravagant confidence shown in him by his superiors.
Maybe sometimes that kind of support comes down to who people in South African rugby are inclined to put their faith in. As the kids say, it must be nice.