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Rassie Erasmus has let us all down

By Daniel Gallan
Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus (Photo by David Ramos/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Rassie Erasmus has told us often and loudly that the Springboks represent the best of South Africa. He’s right. They are proof of what is possible when greedy and corrupt politicians are excluded from a truly authentic nation building project. Their triumphs are a consequence of the hard work of a meritocracy that chooses to recognise the colour of a man’s skin but does not judge him for it.

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Which is why a series of incendiary and divisive tweets have let us all down. Rassie, if you’re reading this, you really should have known better.

On Thursday 19 October, a RugbyPass journalist made a pithy comment on Twitter (now X) suggesting that the Springboks are actually a northern hemisphere team in disguise. He pointed out that South African domestic franchises compete in European competitions and that many of their players play for European or Japanese clubs. It was clearly bait dangled by a writer who has a history of riling Boks supporters. But I don’t imagine even he thought he’d nab such a big fish as a director of rugby.

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Erasmus responded by saying, “At least we all South Africa”, accompanied by a meme of a grazing sheep. He then thrice referred to the male journalist as “her” before blocking him publicly. Erasmus later apologised for the misgendering, citing a “typo”, though the tweet has not been deleted.

Rassie Erasmus

Where to start? Let’s begin with a couple of caveats. Erasmus is a national treasure. I’m certain that if he ran for higher office, say, the mayor of a major city in South Africa, he’d sweep to victory. He’d certainly do a decent job at fixing one of the country’s failing parastatals. Perhaps he can start with the Post Office and work his way up?

He is also a living embodiment of the rainbowism ideal espoused by Nelson Mandela in the early days of democracy in the mid-1990s. It’s hard to think of a single person who has done more than Erasmus to cultivate true racial transformation in the sport. The Springboks, once synonymous with the racist ideology of the apartheid regime, is now a beacon for multicultural excellence.

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But his position, as a World Cup winning coach and the face of the one national team that regularly triumphs on a global stage, means he also carries a great responsibility. He’s not just a rugby practitioner. He is a statesman and an ambassador for our country. What he says matters.

For those unaware, South Africa has some of the highest rape statistics on the planet with Interpol naming it the “rape capital of the world”. This is just one aspect of an epidemic that has seen gender based violence run rampant across race and class. In every facet of society, women and girls live in daily fear for their safety.

Rassie Erasmus

I’m sure Erasmus was not intentionally dog whistling to a misogynistic fanbase, but that does not mean his calls weren’t heard. Using ‘her’ as a slur is primary-school banter at best and dangerous at worst. It denigrates half the population and amplifies an unchecked toxicity. Call me a snowflake if you like, but read the replies from female rugby fans and ask yourself if Erasmus’ sexism – intentional or otherwise – isn’t damaging.

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But this was just one of Erasmus’ transgressions. The other came in the form of thinly veiled xenophobia when he responded to the original tweet by referencing the homogeneity of his team. One might view this as a proud coach championing the homegrown talent at his disposal, but a deeper understanding of the context leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

The journalist who started this all is a New Zealander. The All Blacks have long been criticised for pilfering talent from the island nations around it. There’s no doubt they’ve benefited from the influx of Samoans, Tongans and Fijians who have either made New Zealand their home, or were born to parents from elsewhere in the Pacific.

Fans of opposition teams have used this as a stick to beat the most successful side in rugby’s history: “Ah, yes, you might have three World Cups and hold every record in the book, but you’d have nothing if you couldn’t import all those stars.”

It’s one thing for a chest thumping supporter to spout this nonsense over pints. But for a director of rugby to do so is both alarming and distressing.

Forgetting the fact that Erasmus won a World Cup with a Zimbabwean – Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira – playing a starring role in the front row, or that the Springboks were previously captained by another Zimbabwean – Bobby Skinstad – the Boks’ director of rugby ought to have a better grasp of the country’s recent history.

Months before the successful World Cup campaign in 2019, 12 foreign nationals were killed in xenophobic riots in South Africa. More than 50 businesses were destroyed or damaged. A mosque was attacked and a mall looted. Families were driven out of their homes. Once again, Erasmus should have known better. This sort of rhetoric appeals to the worst of our society.

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And really, he has no excuse. Siya Kolisi and Makazole Mapimpi are just two Springboks who have used their platform to call on South African men to be better, to combat the scourge of gender based violence and speak up if they see their friends or family members acting in a hostile manner towards women. The entire squad has united behind a shared sense of mission that disregards colour or creed.

We hold them to a higher standard because they have asked us to do so. The mythology of the Springboks is fuelled by the love of the supporters but it is also self-perpetuating. They are writers of their own press and directors of their own documentaries. The narrative only holds if it remains consistent.

There is a theory that Erasmus is playing mind games. That he knows exactly what he’s doing and is deflecting attention away from his team as they gear up for a semi-final showdown against England. I don’t buy that.

There are a thousand other ways to achieve this without resorting to inflammatory jibes. There are many fans who have taken issue with Erasmus but there are others who have doubled down on the jingoism. I’m appealing to those fans now to hold our leaders, even the best of them, to account when they transgress.

When millions of Americans protested against their country’s war in Vietnam, counter-protestors rallied behind the mantra of, “Our country, right or wrong.”. This blind loyalty polarised the nation and has led to the stark divide that exists today. That same blind loyalty has seen the ANC retain power in the country despite its litany of failures.

The Springboks are supposed to be better than all that. Its players should be better. Its coaches should be better. And so should the fans.

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160 Comments
R
Rugby 208 days ago

Come on AB's aka the Pacific Lions
If the Black Ferns can do it so can you, pick local.
All the new millions the AB's (Pacific Lions) have announced - well pick and train your own players, no more Pacific Island poaching.

The 2023 AB's (Pacific Lions) squad 9/33
The Black Ferns squad 2/33

The 2023 AB's (Pacific Lions) squad 9/33 (could have been 10/33 if Sevu Reece had not been injured).

  1. Samisoni Frank Simpson Taukei'aho - Tongatapu, Tonga
  2. Nepo Eti Laulala - Moto'otua, Samoa
  3. Tyrel Shae Lomax - Canberra, Australia
  4. Aniseto Ofa He Moori Tuʻungafasi - Nukuʻalofa, Tonga
  5. Leicester Ofa Ki Wales Twickenham Fainga'anuku - Nukuʻalofa, Tonga
  6. Emoni Narawa - Suva, Fiji
  7. Finlay Turner Christie - Peebles, Scotland
  8. Shannon Michael Frizell - Folaha, Tonga
  9. Samisoni Frank Simpson Taukei'aho - Tongatapu, Tonga
The Black Ferns squad 2/33
Tanya Kalounivale -Fijian
Amy du Plessis - South African

r
richard 208 days ago

Indeed the RWC Champs live in exile a large part of the year and the same applies to top SA players in all sports the best of our actors and opera singers, as well as those from other 3rd World countries.

R
Rugby 209 days ago

10 July 2004
New Zealand 41–26 Pacific Islanders
Try: Rokocoko (2)
Marshall
Gear
Meeuws
Umaga
Con: Carter (4)
Pen: Carter Try: Sivivatu (2)
Rabeni
Lauaki
Con: Bai (3)
North Harbour Stadium, Albany
Attendance: 22,000
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

New Zealand: 15. Mils Muliaina, 14. Rico Gear, 13. Tana Umaga (capt.), 12. Dan Carter, 11. Joe Rokocoko, 10. Carlos Spencer, 9. Justin Marshall, 8. Xavier Rush, 7. Marty Holah, 6. Jono Gibbes, 5. Keith Robinson, 4. Chris Jack, 3. Carl Hayman, 2. Keven Mealamu, 1. Kees Meeuws – Replacements: 18. Jerry Collins, 20. Byron Kelleher, 21. Nick Evans – Unused: 16. Andrew Hore, 17. Greg Somerville, 19. Mose Tuiali'i, 22. Sam Tuitupou

Pacific Islanders: 15. Seru Rabeni, 14. Lome Fa'atau, 13. Brian Lima, 12. Seremaia Baikeinuku, 11. Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10. Tanner Vili, 9. Moses Rauluni, 8. Sisa Koyamaibole, 7. Alifereti Doviverata, 6. Sione Lauaki, 5. Ifereimi Rawaqa, 4. Inoke Afeaki (c), 3. Taufaʻao Filise, 2. Aleki Lutui, 1. Soane Tongaʻuiha - Replacements: 17. Tevita Taumoepeau, 18. Filipo Levi, 19. Semo Sititi, 19. Semo Sititi, 21. Tane Tuʻipulotu, 22. Sireli Bobo – Unused: 16. Joeli Lotawa, 20. Steven So'oialo

R
Rugby 209 days ago

The AB’s aka *the Pacific Lions. *50+ players 200+ tests.

Sivivatu, Sitiveni Waica and Lauaki, Sione Tuitupu actually played for the "Pacific Islanders rugby union team" before been poached.

Current 2023 RWC squad.
 
1.      Samisoni Frank Simpson Taukei'aho  - Tongatapu, Tonga
2.      Nepo Eti Laulala - Moto'otua, Samoa
3.      Tyrel Shae Lomax - Canberra, Australia
4.      Aniseto Ofa He Moori Tuʻungafasi - Nukuʻalofa, Tonga
5.      Leicester Ofa Ki Wales Twickenham Fainga'anuku - Nukuʻalofa, Tonga
6.      Emoni Narawa - Suva, Fiji
7.      Finlay Turner Christie - Peebles, Scotland
8.      Shannon Michael Frizell - Folaha, Tonga
9.      Samisoni Frank Simpson Taukei'aho  - Tongatapu, Tonga
 
More recent others
 
10.   Pita Gus Nacagilevu Sowakula - Lautoka, Fiji
11.   Samipeni Finau -Tonga
12.   Roger Tuivasa-Sheck - Apia, Samoa
13.   Folau Fakatava  - Nukuʻalofa, Tonga
14.   Sevuloni Lasei Reece - Nadi, Fiji
15.   Vaea Tangitau Lapota Fifita - Vavaʻu, Tonga
 
 
Others Professional Era
 
16.   Apia, Samoa       Anesi, Sosene Raymond
17.   Apia, Samoa       Brown, Olo Max
18.   Apia, Samoa       Clarke, Eroni
19.   Apia, Samoa       Collins, Jerry
20.   Apia, Samoa       Ieremia, Alama
21.   Apia, Samoa       Schuster, Nesetorio Jonny
22.   Apia, Samoa       Schwalger, John Evan
23.   Falesiu, Samoa   Tuigamala, Va'aiga Lealuga
24.   Moto'otua, Samoa           Laulala, Casey Daniel Eti
25.   Moto'otua, Samoa           So'oialo, Rodney
26.   Moto'otua, Samoa           Toeava, Isaia
27.   Pago Pago, American Samoa        Solomon, Frank
28.   Salelesi, Samoa  Muliaina, Junior Malili
29.   Savai'i, Samoa    Masoe, Matemini Christopher
30.   Tutuila, American Samoa               Kaino, Jerome
 
31.   Ha'apai, Tonga   Fekitoa, Malakai Fonokalafi
32.   Ha'apai, Tonga   Lauaki, Sione Tuitupu
33.   Ha'apai, Tonga   Taumoepeau, Saimone
34.   Longoteme, Tonga          Maka, Isitolo
35.   Nuku'alofa, Tonga           Alatini, Pita Faiva-ki-moana
36.   Nuku'alofa, Tonga           Riechelmann, Charles Calvin
37.   Nuku'alofa, Tonga           Vanisi, Osaiasi Kupu
38.   Tonga, Tonga     Batty, Walter
39.   Tonga, Tonga     Halai, Frank
 
40.   Lautoka, Fiji        Fraser, Bernard Gabriel
41.   Lautoka, Fiji        Jennings, Arthur Grahn
42.   Levuka, Fiji          Solomon, David
43.   Nadi, Fiji              Rokocoko, Josevata Taliga
44.   Nausori Highlands, Fiji     Matson, John Tabaiwalu Fakavale
45.   Nausori Highlands, Fiji     Vidiri, Joeli
46.   Suva, Fiji              Sivivatu, Sitiveni Waica
47.   Suva, Fiji              Williams, Ronald Oscar

B
Brent 210 days ago

Wow RugbyPass up your game!…this is ridiculous criticism of a coach that has a record of pulling the chain rightly or wrongly but is undeniably the biggest factor to Springbok success…read the room or you’ll all end up like Ben Smith!

M
Morne 210 days ago

What an idiot. Bringing Race & politics into the game to bash the coach. Except the fact you lost the final fair and square. Get over it.

D
David 270 days ago

Soap box alert! How can I use the Springboks moment in the sun for self-promotion.

N
Nick 273 days ago

take it as banter, no more!

D
Diarmid 273 days ago

“a RugbyPass journalist made a pithy comment on Twitter…”

Let's not get carried away. Ben Smith is not a journalist and he should just be grateful that he has managed to get something he wrote read by more people than have ever read beyond the click-bait provocative headline of one of his articles.

W
Wayne 273 days ago

How does this get turned into a rant about misogynists? The reality is that rugby pass is owned by world rugby and has been sending out anti south african team comments throughout this world cup. There should be an investigation into the clear bias shown by this media arm of world rugby. Perhaps Bill should be looking elsewhere as I think his time is up. As far as mentioning rape statistics etc, that statement is inflammatory to people from South Africa as I don’t understand why thjs becomes about politics. There has been a lot of hate of the Springboks in the English press, leading up to the semi-final. This has only been exacerbated by an article like this in my view the press aren't bastions of the sport or have the right to attack players or coaches. Perhaps world rugby need to look into their own affairs first before promoting bad feelings for the boks. Also Curry, i’ve lost a lot of respect for you. I bet a lot has been said to Bongo too. But one thing I do know, as a South African, is that then c word isn't used in SA. We have a more colourful version in afrikaans and also many in xhosa or zulu, and so there is no way he would have used that. In fact I can’t ever remember hearing that word back home. When I travel in the UK and Australia though, I hear it a lot. So think Curry is just too dumb to actually understand what was said. Thankfully the media will latch on to it and as always blow it out of proportion, because after all we need a villain, and South Africa is that villain because of certain politics back home.

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Jon 4 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

> it was apparent Robertson was worried about his lack of experience at half-back, hence the decision to start veteran TJ Perenara and put Finlay Christie, the next most experienced number nine, on the bench. I don’t think it was this at all. It was a general scope he was putting over all the playerbase, he went with this cohesion factor in every position. > If the main priority is to build different tactical elements to the gameplan, then Ratima is the man in whom Robertson needs to trust and promote. This also I think is antagonist towards the reference game plans. The other plans do not need the speed of which Perenara (atleast) can’t provide, and I think personal is going to be the main point of difference between these games/opponents. That is the aspect of which I think most people will struggle to grasp, a horses for course selection policy over the typical ‘Top All Black 15’. That best 15 group of players is going to have to get broken down into categories. So it test one we saw Christie control the game to nullify the English threats out of existence and grind to a win. In test two we saw Ratima need to come on which dictated that this time they would run them off their feet with speed and the space did open up and the victory did come. Horses for courses. The same concepts are going to exist for every group, front row, lock and loose forward balance, midfield, and outside backs all can have positional changes that the players may be asked to accentualize on and develop. There might be some that _it_ will not ever click for, but they’ll hopefully still be getting to enjoy unbelievable comeback victories and late game shutouts to close it down. Knowing does not mean not enjoying.

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