• This is part one of Yolulwe Qoshe and Grit Sports' three-part series exploring Rassie Erasmus’s contribution to South African rugby
From 2016 to 2017, the Springboks had become somewhat of a laughingstock. What’s that? The mighty Springboks, with all that pride and tradition? Arguably the most physical and most intimidating rugby-playing nation in the world, was out-muscled by Argentina, to fall to their first-ever away defeat to Los Pumas, before going on to face further embarrassment by losing against Italy for the first time ever at test level.
This didn’t come without its consequences, as sponsors pulled out and politicians got involved, creating an environment that was hard to control. This would’ve, no doubt, had a spillover effect into the dressing room and overall psyche of the squad who formed the Springboks during those two years. In the first episode of the docu-series Chasing the Sun, we saw the likes of Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira and Trevor Nyakane open up about what they are going through during that time.
So, when every non-rugby factor was starting to affect the Boks’ brand on the field, it became imperative to shift attention back to the game. Still on episode one, SARU CEO Jurie Roux spoke about there being only one person who could do that job – Rassie Erasmus. But what made Erasmus different? What qualities and attributes did he possess that distinguished him from the rest and made him the desirable option for the job?
Firstly, his brain was wired on rugby 24/7. He had a track record and credentials that made him a standout candidate, having led the Free State Cheetahs to a Currie Cup victory in 2005, being voted the 2016-17 Pro12 Coach of the Season and the added bonus of having been a Bok and knowing how to deal with the added scrutiny of wearing that jersey.
But perhaps more significantly, what made Erasmus the perfect choice was quite simply the fact that he got it!
What does that mean? Well, although Erasmus’s biggest assets came with his ability to make the team function on the field of play, his main asset was his devoted interest and attention to detail.
Essentially, all of this meant that he didn’t just manage an environment that was conducive to producing success, he actually created an environment that he was 100% confident would deliver success. It is for this reason that every single ‘big risk’ people felt he was taking worked out.
In Chasing the Sun, you hear Erasmus speaking about how a country with the population like South Africa should never be losing to a country with a significantly smaller population. He didn’t make that statement without a plan, and he went on to use every inch of diversity available at his disposal: a decision that would prove there was already a vision in place for the type of dressing room he wanted, one he knew would thrive.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked yet equally crucial advantages Erasmus had stemmed from his background. Being born and raised in the small town of Despatch in the Eastern Cape, he would’ve been used to interacting with a diverse group of people and the necessary adjustments that come with that. He would’ve seen firsthand that there was talent in diversity, hence a national cause like the Springboks could not be selected from a narrow player pool.
He then put that all into practice when it mattered the most and when everyone was talking about how difficult the transformation targets would make his job. Instead of complaining or making excuses, he reiterated that he did not see transformation as a burden, but rather a natural process that was possible with the talent available from all race groups in the country, and he saw it as a welcome challenge to incorporate into his Rugby World Cup master plan.
Every decision made by Erasmus was a deliberate and by design, and he was a man true to his word. Educator and author Stephen Covey once said, “strength lies in differences, not in similarities”, and Erasmus’s ability to incorporate all aspects of South Africa’s rich diversity is a reflection of who the man is.
- Catch the five-part docu-series Chasing the Sun on Supersport (channel 201) at 6pm on Sundays.