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RUGBY

Rassie sets sights on historic RWC hat-trick, extends Springbok contract to 2027

Rassie sets sights on historic RWC hat-trick, extends Springbok contract to 2027
Rassie Erasmus (Director of Rugby) of South Africa during the Rugby World Cup 2023 final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on 28 October 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo: Steve Haag / Gallo Images)

Rassie Erasmus has committed his future to the Springboks with a new contract that will see him lead the team at Rugby World Cup 2027 in Australia.

Rassie Erasmus’ desire to guide the Springboks to a third consecutive world title was underlined on Tuesday with confirmation that he had signed on until the end of the 2027 season.

If Erasmus stays until the end of the new contract, it would be an unprecedented nine-year involvement with the Boks that started in 2018.

The prize at the end of the period would be a tilt in a third consecutive Rugby World Cup (RWC) after the Boks retained the title they won in 2019, in Paris last year. 

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) also confirmed what was already widely reported – that Erasmus will serve as Springbok head coach for the next four years.

Between 2020 and 2023 Nienaber was head coach, with Erasmus taking a back seat role as Saru director of rugby as they won Rugby World Cup 2023.

In reality though, little changed in the Bok coaching set-up following the 2018/19 cycle when Erasmus was de facto head coach, taking the Boks to a 2019 World Cup win.

“It is a massive honour to coach the Springboks, and I am grateful for the trust placed in me,” said Erasmus. 

“The main difference between the last four years and this season is that I will be more hands-on at the field sessions.

“In my role as director of rugby in the last four years, I continued to oversee the team structures and strategy in conjunction with Jacques [Nienaber] and the other coaches, so it should be an easy transition back into the head coach role.”

Nienaber has taken up a coaching position at Leinster in Ireland. It’s a huge void to fill as Nienaber has not only grown into a charismatic head coach in his own right, but he also remains one of the most respected defence coaches in the game. 

The Boks won three games in succession by one-point margins at RWC 2023, only conceding one try in the semi and the final. His influence will echo through the set-up, but change in that department is coming.

Erasmus and Nienaber operated together as a coaching duo for more than 25 years. They seemed inseparable and were an ideal foil to one another. Both are innovators but Nienaber, coming from a scientific background as a trained physio, loved analysis and data. 

Erasmus is more of an artist; one who understands the pragmatic value of analysis and measurement, but revels in the artistry of the game.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of the next four years will be who provides the scientific foil to Erasmus’ maverick nature, which was something Nienaber was adept at performing.

Boks

Harlequins Line Out and Defence Coach Jerry Flannery looks on prior to the European Rugby Challenge Cup match between Harlequins and Ulster Rugby at The Stoop on 4 April 2021 in London, England. (Photo: Steve Bardens / Getty Images for Harlequins)

Flannery and Brown confirmed

Saru confirmed what Daily Maverick reported earlier this week, that former Irish international hooker Jerry Flannery has been recruited as Nienaber’s replacement as defence coach.

Former All Black flyhalf Tony Brown has also been contracted as attack coach, replacing Felix Jones, to further breathe new life into the management group.

Brown served as an assistant coach for Japan from 2016 to the 2023 World Cup and was also the Highlanders head coach in 2017, 2021 and 2022.

The duo will complete the Springbok coaching team which consists of Mzwandile Stick, Deon Davids and Daan Human, as well as Andy Edwards as Head of Athletic Performance, who were key coaching staff in 2023 and whose contracts were extended midway through 2023 until the conclusion of the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

Tony Brown, coach of Japan, during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Japan and Chile at Stadium de Toulouse on 10 September 2023 in Toulouse, France. (Photo: Catherine Ivill / Getty Images)

Erasmus is currently still in hospital where he is recovering from serious chemical burns sustained in what has been described as a “freak accident” where he was using a domestic cleaning product.

While full details of the incident remain unclear, Erasmus posted pictures of his burns on social media this week. It’s remarkable that he seems to be in such high spirits considering the severity of his injuries.

“We already had our first coaching session this week at the hospital, and it’s great to see the enthusiasm among the coaches to get the season underway,” Erasmus said. 

He was confident about the player depth available both for the Springboks, where several young players came through the ranks in the last few years to become key members of the 2023 team, such as Manie Libbok and Kurt-Lee Arendse, and a number of players coming through at the provincial unions.

“One of our key pillars in the last few years was building player depth and we are excited about the talent available to us this season,” said Erasmus.

“Most of the 2023 World Cup-winning players are still available for selection, and several young players now have the luxury of international and World Cup experience, which is invaluable at Test level.

“We have a challenging Test season ahead with a Test Series against Ireland on 6 and 13 July in Pretoria and Durban, and we face Portugal for the first time a week later in Bloemfontein.

“We then have an exciting Rugby Championship campaign which features two home tests against New Zealand on 31 August and 7 September in Johannesburg and Cape Town, before facing Argentina in Nelspruit on 28 September.

“With the coaching team finalised, we can now focus on planning for the season and the next few years.”

Duane Vermeulen during the South Africa men’s national rugby team trophy tour on 3 November 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

More additions

Jaco Peyper – who recently announced his retirement from refereeing – joins the team as National Laws Advisor.

Double RWC-winning Springbok No 8, Duane Vermeulen, has also been appointed to a roving coaching role with all SA Rugby’s national teams, where he will become the third member of a mobi-coaching unit, joining forces with existing coaches, Franzel September and Bafana Nhleko.

Referee Jaco Peyper looks on during The Rugby Championship match between the Australia Wallabies and Argentina at CommBank Stadium on 15 July 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: Scott Gardiner / Getty Images)

“It is also a huge coup to have a world-class referee in Jaco Peyper as a member of the management team and to retain his expertise in South African Rugby, as understanding the referees and their analysis of the laws is critical to any team’s success.

“We are excited about this Springbok coaching team, and we’ll be thrilled to see how the double World Champions perform once they return to the field for the first time since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in France last year.

“Duane has tremendous experience as a player and will take that IP into the coaching teams of our other national teams to give them an insight into what it takes to be a champion team.

“It also allows us to extend our coaching base from within the ranks of the Springboks with an eye to the future.” DM

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