TUSSLE FOR THE TOP
Bok assistant coaches sign contract extensions — new head coach likely to come from within
SA Rugby formally confirmed contract extensions for three Springbok assistant coaches on Wednesday.
Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber is flying the coop after opting against seeking a contract renewal, but the confirmation that his assistants are staying on shows there is jostling for position in the background.
When Nienaber announced he would not stay on after Rugby World Cup 2023, Daily Maverick reported that assistants Mzwandile Stick and Deon Davids had re-signed until 2027. That news was confirmed on 26 April.
Daan Human, the scrum coach, and head of athletic performance Andy Edwards have also signed on until 2027 while director Rassie Erasmus, who was already under contract until 2025, has not extended beyond that.
Besides Nienaber, who has signed for Irish club Leinster, Felix Jones will also depart after RWC 2023 and take up a coaching post in Britain. This is not unusual as the World Cup cycles tend to lead to massive coaching flux.
What is unusual is that Nienaber chose not to seek a renewal considering his two-decade-long association with Erasmus. He has not spoken publicly about his reasons, but he obviously wants a new challenge.
What’s less obvious is why Nienaber wants to cut the umbilical cord to Erasmus, who has basically been his boss for 20 years.
But his move has also started the process of jostling for the position of Bok coach post-2023. While all these moves prior to the World Cup, suggest that it’s controlled and planned, and will lead to less distractions, that might not be the case.
Stick and Davids, the two most senior assistant coaches in the set-up, are obvious candidates for the position. Promotion from within seems logical and easy, but unless SA Rugby advertises the post, they won’t know who might be throwing their hats in the ring.
There will be sniping from the outside with quality coaches around the globe likely to express interest in the job.
With Erasmus at the helm as director, a seamless transition from within does appear to be the best option. But if he is offered a good post elsewhere in the coming months and chooses to move on, then the two most senior coaching figures in the Bok set-up will be gone. And the men left with the contracts might find themselves answering to a new boss.
But for now, the news out of HQ is that all is good and well.
“We are delighted to announce that Mzwandile, Deon, Daan and Andy have signed contract extensions that will see them remain with the Springboks until the 2027 Rugby World Cup,” said Rian Oberholzer, SA Rugby CEO.
“They all come a long way as a coaching team under the guidance of Rassie, as Director of Rugby, and I am confident that the continuity in our coaching staff will bode well for the Springboks for 2023 and the following seasons.
“It was our ambition to retain all the current coaching staff in recognition of the excellent work they have done over the past six years regardless of the outcomes of the Rugby World Cup later this year, and we are pleased that most of them have agreed to continue with the team.
“The planning to confirm a successor in the title role of Springbok coach remains ongoing in the background, while Rassie’s services are tied down to the end of 2025 at the very least.
“With their services secured, it is business as usual, and we would like to wish all the national coaches the best of luck as their preparations pick up for the forthcoming international season and the Rugby World Cup in France.”
The Springboks face Australia in Pretoria on Saturday, 8 July, in their first Test of the season in the abbreviated Rugby Championship, which will be followed by matches against New Zealand at the Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland a week later, and Argentina in Johannesburg on Saturday, 29 July.
The team will then make the journey to Buenos Aires in August to take on the Pumas before facing Wales and the All Blacks in Rugby World Cup warm-up matches in Cardiff and London in the final build-up to the Rugby World Cup.
South Africa will launch their Rugby World Cup title defence on Sunday, 10 September, against Scotland in Marseille, which will be followed by pool matches against Romania in Bordeaux (17 September), Ireland in Paris (23 September) and Tonga in Marseille (1 October).
The Rugby World Cup quarterfinals will be played on the weekend of 14/15 October, with the semi-finals on 20/21 October and the final on Saturday, 28 October. DM