Rassie courting Owens as he looks to improve ‘communication’ with World Rugby

Rassie courting Owens as he looks to improve ‘communication’ with World Rugby
Rassie Erasmus (Director of Rugby) during the SA Rugby debrief session at Stellenbosch Academy of Sport on 8 March 2023 in Stellenbosch. (Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images)

National director of rugby Rassie Erasmus took time out of Springboks training to host a session detailing all the work his department does.

National director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is hoping to appoint former Test referee Nigel Owens as a consultant as he attempts to improve relations with World Rugby, and in particular the refereeing department.  

Erasmus admitted that he had probably made some “errors” in his past dealings with match officials in a public space.

He served two suspensions in the space of 15 months for outbursts against officials on social media, but it now seems the penny might have dropped. It’s an approach that is hardening attitudes towards the Boks, not gaining them sympathy.

After courting Owens, who has been critical of Erasmus’ outbursts, as a potential consultant for the Springboks in the lead-up to Rugby World Cup 2023, Erasmus appears to have agreed he might have overstepped a mark.

Which is why he contacted Owens, who officiated in more than 100 Tests.

“I wouldn’t say they were negotiations (with Owens). I phoned him, and we had a good chat and I explained to him exactly what I think we need to do to restore the way we communicate with World Rugby,” Erasmus said.

“We’ve tried in different ways. I’ve made some errors there, and I think there were some errors on both sides, but the Springboks and South Africa are much bigger than us having our scuffles and disagreeing with one another.

“There are a few other options, but Nigel was the first guy I was after when we had our first coach’s planning meeting.

“Maybe we just don’t understand this. Maybe we just don’t have the insights of how these guys see us in the way we come across. I had a good discussion with him.

“We must take those things to the (Saru) steering committee and get them approved, but I had a discussion with him and he explained his situation to me and I explained to him why, how and from when I think he can help us.

“He’s obviously got some personal things that he has to sort out, but I think within the next week or two we will [know], through the steering committee and also Nigel in his personal capacity, if that’s a go-ahead or not.

“It would be great if it is.”

Overview of progress

Erasmus also subtly defended the work of his department which is responsible for far more than only the Springboks. As director of rugby his mandate is to oversee women’s rugby, the sevens programme, the Junior Boks, referees and to provide coaching pathways.

It’s the thankless work in the trenches that goes unseen, which is why criticism rankles.

Erasmus took the unusual step of holding a media briefing this week to highlight all the work, outside of the high-profile Springboks, which is ongoing.

The entire support staff were there from Women’s high performance manager Lynne Cantwell to Bok operations manager Charles Wessels and several high-performance personnel in between.

It is not something that has happened before. Erasmus has held media briefings specifically about women’s rugby, or the Boks, in the past, but he’s never held one to address the entire SA Rugby (Saru) ecosystem in one sitting.

It was never mentioned, but it seems this step was in response to some mild criticism from former Bok coach Nick Mallett on TV a few weeks ago. Erasmus responded to Mallett at the time with a voice note posted on Twitter in the early hours of the morning, which was not a good look.

Daily Maverick understands that a subsequent proposed meeting between Erasmus and SuperSport’s panel of commentators, to address their “opinions” on air, was postponed twice and still has not happened.

But in the interim Erasmus articulated what has been happening in the department over the past year.

“There are several highlights which we are extremely proud of, especially given the performances of most of our national teams last season,” Erasmus said.

“Although there may be bumps along the way, we are generally on a good trajectory in terms of our teams, refereeing and coaching structures.

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“In addition to this we are currently in the final week of our first Springbok camp for the year, which is the first time we have had such a luxury in a Rugby World Cup year.

“The Springbok Women played nine Tests last year which included an away victory over Japan, while they’ve also had four training camps so far this year and are about to embark on their first tour of the new season.

“Our Springbok Women’s Sevens programme is also back on track. The team qualified for the Commonwealth Games, featured in four tournaments including the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series, which will again be hosted in April, this year in Stellenbosch. They are also together on a full-time basis once again for the next few months.

“The Junior Springboks had a fantastic year last year under the leadership of Bafana (Nhleko), and they will soon get their preparations under way for the 2023 edition of the World Rugby U20 Championship which will be hosted in the Western Cape in June and July.

“The Blitzboks finished second in the World Series last season, and they have four HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments left this season to improve their current ranking.

“Our Elite Player Development system is functioning well, with 19 graduates having represented the Springboks in 2022, and eight of them making their Bok debuts last season.”

Refereeing and coaching development

Erasmus also commended SA Rugby’s refereeing and coaching development structures: “Our referee system is functioning well, and this is evident in the fact that we have four referees on the United Rugby Championship panel and another two in the competition as development referees.

“We had a female Referee of the Year in Aimee-Barrett Theron, who held the whistle in the Rugby World Cup semifinal last year, while we also rolled out a Referees Coaching Blueprint to 14 referee societies.

“From a coaching perspective, Laurian Johannes-Haupt became a member of the Springbok Women’s coaching team on an interim basis.

“We implemented a programme to fast-track the development of elite black coaches to equip them for the demands at the top level of the game, and we saw Mzwandile Stick (Springbok assistant coach) lead the South African ‘A’ team last year.

“Over and above this, our medical and technical departments are also running smoothly, which are obviously vital cogs in our performances on the field and in the safety of the game in general.” DM 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Philip Armstrong says:

    Interesting to see the other work taking place and priorities given to the overall structure of the game here in South Africa. Recruiting Owens for the RWC2023 campaign will be a master stroke if Rassie can pull it off and would be indicative of the high regard he is held around the rugby world, notwithstanding some of his alleged transgressions with World Rugby.

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