Rassie Erasmus’s first press conference of 2019 delivered plenty of soundbites, as the South African coach covered everything from the national style of play, losing the financial war against European clubs, to who will coach the Springboks next.
As part of a radical new contracting strategy announced recently, ‘dozens’ of home-based players will be taken into Springbok succession planning next year. The systemic overhaul is a result of South Africa’s inability to keep up with overseas offers with the weakening exchange rate.
“We are struggling with a massive exchange rate and clubs on the other side who don’t always have a business model, has a rich owner with a lot of money.
“He can spend that money, whether the player is worth it or. If we compete with that all the time, we will exhaust our budget. For us, succession planning on this side would be impossible.”
“We just can’t bat in that area anymore,” the Bok coach said, adding: “Those guys just have too much money. We have decided to spread our money through more players.”
Going hand-in-hand with the policy is the intention to formally scrap the 30-cap rule for overseas-based players, something that Erasmus already had exercised in practice with the use of overseas talent like Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux and Cheslin Kolbe in 2018. Instead of fighting against the current, Erasmus is prepared to swim with it in order to return the national side to glory.
In explaining the extreme overhaul, he made it clear that it is because succession planning is something that has been lacking in South Africa.
“You are not sure how many players you will lose at the end of this year.
“We have to sort out this wider succession plan first before we give more attention to that,” he said.
Rassie’s wide-ranging review extends past player retention issues and into the search for his replacement as head coach after he moves into the Director of Rugby role, the one he initially signed up for when he signed his six-year contract.
“Then it’s about making succession plans for coaches, and I include black coaches, because this has been a big issue. With the pool of pro players getting smaller, the pool of pro coaches will get smaller too. Once we get the succession planning of the players right, we will move on to that.
When it comes to just who will be sitting in the coaches box in 12 months time, Erasmus already has an idea of who he would like to step in.
“I’ve begun the process in my own head,’ he said. ‘There are a few names being bounced around. I would be stupid to say who those names are right now, though.
The long-term view will hopefully have South African rugby firing by 2023, but that isn’t to say this year’s World Cup is just a stepping stone. Erasmus will be going to Japan to win, having re-shaped the way the Springboks play tests to a more traditional game which he says he is noticing now at Super Rugby level.
“World Cups have never been won by eight tries,” he said.
“It’s always been high-pressure games and the end of the game it’s a penalty here or a drop goal there.
“If you don’t start accepting that mindset, and how important are penalties, discipline, kicking game, defence — and by all means attack — but if all of a sudden you want to instill that at Test match level it’s too late. The players understand that.
“This game isn’t all about X-factor, all about a brilliant moment; it’s almost like the [South African Super Rugby] teams are trying tactically to squeeze results out of each other, and to be honest I’m enjoying that.”
“A lot of players were in the Springboks mix last season, and they’ve gone back to their franchises; what we’re trying to do at Springboks level does get filtered down through those players. Those players know what they must be able to do when they get to us.
“We do see a lot of stuff with the franchise coaches but they all have their own flavour, especially when it comes to the tactical game, and we don’t want to take that away.
“But there’s certainly some stuff flowing through from the national side, and vice versa.”
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