Sport

BOK THE TRENDS

Rassie hits the reset button — here’s how Springboks will find their North Star to 2027

Rassie hits the reset button — here’s how Springboks will find their North Star to 2027
Rassie Erasmus, Director of Rugby, looks on prior to the Summer International match between New Zealand All Blacks v South Africa at Twickenham Stadium on 25 August 2023 in London, England. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

The world champions are not going to lose their title through complacency.

Rassie Erasmus jokingly said that he’s “buggered already” and so he may as well continue with the job of being Springbok coach.

It was a throwaway line when asked why he wants to continue to put himself through the wringer in one of the most highly pressured jobs in world sport. But it also gave a peek into the toll it exacts.

High-performance sport demands the search for constant improvement and the pursuit of perfection. Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect performance in any sport, but particularly not in one as dynamic as rugby.

The pursuit of perfection can be maddening, and it takes a special person to chase that impossible target, knowing that they will never reach it but embracing the journey anyway. Making fewer mistakes, coming up with deviations in current strategies, exploiting loopholes in laws and looking at the game from every angle are what defines the best coaches.

And Erasmus is unequivocally the best.

He’s flawed and has endured personal and professional setbacks in his odyssey to this point, but he probably wouldn’t have had it any other way. The scars, both physical and mental, are reminders of what it takes in this lofty, elite world.

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.

“Look, the highs are flipping high, and the lows are very low,” Erasmus admitted this week as he outlined the Boks’ roadmap for the next few years.

“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 change room 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.”

Make a difference

Like successful people in many spheres, Erasmus could go through the motions, using the credit he has built as an architect of two Rugby World Cup wins, and bask in the glow for a while.

But he needs to go to work every day knowing that he can make a difference, and that the Boks will continue to improve and be better. Standing still is going backwards.

Erasmus’s outlook is also in direct opposition to the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Rassie

Rassie Erasmus before the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand at Stade de France in Paris on 28 October 2023. (Photo: Paul Harding / Getty Images)

Springbok rugby certainly isn’t broken, but like any expensive piece of machinery it needs servicing and upgrades to continue to perform into the future.

In that sense, it always needs fixing.

The rest of the rugby world is not that far behind, as three one-point wins in the knockout stages of Rugby World Cup 2023 suggest. The Boks weren’t miles ahead of the pack in the way, say, the All Blacks were between 2011 and 2015.

For the Boks to prosper and achieve their next goal of winning the one in Australia in 2027 to become the first side to win three titles consecutively, evolution is needed.

We came up with three potential pitfalls to stopping us winning… lack of leadership, a lack of creativity and an abundance of arrogance.

But before evolution, there has to be a recognition of which aspects most urgently need to be overhauled, and which potential hurdles exist on the path to that goal.

Working hard is a given in an Erasmus Bok environment, but working smart is possibly even more vital.

“We had our first sessions as a group last week, and following our discussions we came up with three potential pitfalls to stopping us winning, even if we continue to work as hard as we did in the past,” Erasmus said.

“They are a lack of leadership, a lack of creativity and an abundance of arrogance. One or all of those three aspects can stop you from being successful.”

Three pillars

Creativity, leadership and ego – or arrogance – are the three pillars that will provide the Boks’ North Star in the coming months and years.

Eliminating ego has been one of this group’s most significant successes in the six years Erasmus has been at the helm.

Players, in particular, have had to accept their roles in the setup. Some start games, some finish them and some don’t play much at all.

But they all have a vital role and they all have to check their ego at the door and put the team – but more significantly South Africa – first.

And the only way that works is through total honesty. Players are never in doubt about where they stand, what they need to improve and what is expected of them at any time. They might not always like what they hear, but they hear it first-hand.

Leadership is an aspect that doesn’t set off immediate alarm bells. The squad is stacked with experienced leaders and many players who have formally captained the Boks. New leaders will emerge from the players’ group.

Where leadership might be the most tested, in the short term at least, is among the coaching staff. There are several new additions to the management, including new attack coach Tony Brown and defence coach Jerry Flannery.

Creativity

Which brings us neatly to the third pillar – creativity. In short, the general consensus is that creativity equals scoring tries. But it’s not that linear.

Of course, the Boks want to become more dangerous on attack, especially from the first phase, which is where Brown’s talents as a former All Black flyhalf and renowned attack coach lie.

He should be able to sharpen that aspect of the Boks’ game. That is his mandate. But creativity encompasses more than attack and scoring tries.

The Boks have shown this already. They have been creative in selection – the bomb squad and a 7-1 split between forwards and backs on the bench are just some examples of this.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Springboks’ busy 2024 schedule completed with confirmation of Wales clash at Twickenham

Their creativity has extended to finding loopholes in the laws, allowing Erasmus to be a “water boy” or taking a scrum from a mark in a Rugby World Cup quarterfinal.

That sense of creativity has been one of the Boks’ defining characteristics over the past six years, and by making it one of their pillars for the next cycle, it will continue to influence their thinking.

Erasmus has hit the reset button, but he has not wiped the entire hard drive clean. The world champions are not going to wither under complacency and comfort. If they don’t succeed in 2027, it won’t be through a lack of tactical and technical evolution. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jason du toit says:

    taking a scrum off a mark isn’t a loophole. not by a long shot.

    a loophole is an unintended outcome usually created by various other rules/laws interacting in unexpected ways, or by unintended permissibles slipping between several overlapping rules/laws.

    the scrum has always been an explicit option off a mark.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    “The rest of the rugby world is not that far behind, as three one-point wins in the knockout stages of Rugby World Cup 2023 suggest.”

    One thing we mustn’t forget Craig, is that the games were played in the northern hemisphere in Autumn, where the weather – as it proved! – can be really crap. Not that I’m saying the other teams aren’t catching up, but maybe not that fast! But with hindsight – as with the ‘mark scrum’ story – doesn’t the 7-1 subs squad story look like even more Rassie brilliance? Will we see a 4-3 or even 3-4 split in Oz in 2027 where the pitches should be much drier like SA and the backs will be running themselves into the ground?! Ooh, I am so looking forward to the – just hope I’m still alive to see it, although at 79 (then) I might vrek from the stress!

  • Ed Rybicki says:

    New Zealand, so far ahead in 2011 and 2015?? *Ahem*: in 2011 “ The tournament was won by New Zealand, who defeated France 8–7 in the final.” And if the French had kicked while in front of and under the posts at the death, they would probably have won. Another game of small margins!

    • Steve Davidson says:

      And let us never ever forget the disgraceful NZ Bryce Lawrence debacle in 2011 when (a) he was even chosen to ref the quarter final against Oz and (b) that he was so ‘useless’ or crooked that he let Pocock illegally transgress at every freaking ruck or maul. Just because the ABs hadn’t won the RWC for twenty years and they had to win their home one! (Must admit that’s when a lot of us got gatvol with their mendacity, which was confirmed in 2016 by their trashing the proposed breakdown and tackle rules that would have led to more running rugby, but didn’t work with their boring rugby league type turnovers and tackling, that they’re trying to cover up with this latest ’29 minute red’ nonsense, just because they don’t know how to tackle).

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