Rassie Erasmus still craves the soaring highs only produced by coaching the Boks

Rassie Erasmus still craves the soaring highs only produced by coaching the Boks
Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus draws strength and inspiration for the high-pressure job from his love for the country. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Rassie Erasmus will lead the Springboks on another ambitious four-year adventure because of the ‘love’ he feels for South Africa.

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus was a tough flank in his day, as all South African back rowers who make the grade at Test rugby tend to be.

But he is also emotional and empathetic and went through periods, by his own admission, where his ego hurt his career and affected relations with teammates.

He has had run-ins with rugby’s hierarchy and personal travails in his journey to the top, yet he wants to keep leading his beloved Boks despite the pressure and scrutiny that comes with the job.

“I’ve seen this movie before, and I like this movie,” Erasmus said on Tuesday.

As head coach when the Boks won the Rugby World Cup in 2019, and director of rugby when they repeated the feat in 2023, many would think that’s enough.

Perhaps Erasmus is a bit of a masochist because he wants to do it all again, this time with a new cast of characters, from recently appointed assistant coaches Tony Brown and Jerry Flannery to the inevitable arrival of new players in the Test arena.

If he stays the course to the end of RWC 2027 in Australia, he’ll have been in the Bok coaching setup for nine consecutive years – unprecedented in the professional era of South African rugby.

Obviously, he’s superb at his job. But why does he want to put himself through all the stress and angst once again? Then again, why not?

Coaching rugby is what Erasmus does. Perhaps he has other amazing skills, but it appears that coaching is what he’s best at. It’s where he excels.

Coaching defines him as much as he defines being a modern coach. He is locked in this symbiotic yet difficult relationship with coaching that gives him great pleasure but also dishes out crushing blows.

All coaches go through something similar, but Erasmus is just a bit more emotionally invested than most.

Now, like an Oscar-winning director armed with a new script and a fresh cast – with some stalwarts accompanying him on this journey – he’s ready to create the next blockbuster version of the Boks.

The hardest job

For every peak, there is almost inevitably a trough.

It’s lonely at the top and might even be lonelier in the coming months now that Erasmus’s good friend and long-time coaching collaborator Jacques Nienaber is forging his path at Leinster.

erasmus coaching boks nienaber

Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber were a formidable coaching team. But the latter has moved on and Erasmus will lead the Boks for another four years without his trusted right-hand man. (Photo: Craig Mercer / MB Media / Getty Images)

Nienaber chose to step away as RWC 2023-winning coach into the less pressurised (although still pressured) world of club rugby.

If there is any doubt about the burden of the Bok job, even in good times, look no further than Nienaber and his decision to step away as an example of the toll it exacts.

It’s been described as the hardest job in world sport, and while that can’t be definitively proven, it’s certainly tough. And unique.

For years Erasmus and Nienaber were entwined as a single coaching entity. Between 2020 and 2023, they even acquired a fusion of their names – RasNaber.

But the separation has happened. The narrative that first emerged was, “how will Nienaber cope without Erasmus?” The answer: “Very well, thanks.”

The converse might also be asked. How will Rassie cope without Jacques?

Time will tell, but Erasmus draws his energy for the job and the dream of doing something that might never be matched – winning three World Cups in a row – from a place of love.

“Look, the highs are flipping high, and the lows are very low,” Erasmus admitted.

“You just can’t take those highs away when you see people’s eyes and the gratitude, and you see the people at the airport, and you have that feeling when you’re in the changeroom just before a game.

“It doesn’t matter how much pressure there is. I’m one of those guys who says if you love something enough and can’t contribute in the way you should, you should step away.

“If I’m not good enough and the fans want me out, then it’s time to go. But at this time, I’m so in love with this country and the way we do things and the way we support the Springboks, that I can’t think of a nicer job to have, even with all the pressure.

“People will be upset at times, and I will be upset at times, but I’ve seen this movie before, and I like this movie.”

Almost all South Africans love Erasmus as the main star in this movie, too. Because in rugby terms, Erasmus virtually guarantees box office success. DM


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