A noteworthy take-away from the IRB annual awards ceremony in Tokyo on Sunday can be found in Rassie’s acceptance speech for his Coach of the Year award. Despite acknowledging that he was stepping down as coach, he confirmed that he would remain very aligned with the future direction of the team going forward as director of rugby.
That in itself is not breaking news, but what was interesting was his vision for SA rugby. Rassie made it very clear that the goal is to achieve what the All Blacks have over the past however many years and that is consistency. We don’t want to be No.1 and then slide back to mediocrity – we are now aiming to consistently remain at No. 1 or 2 in the world for a lengthy period of time … just like the All Blacks. The message was clear – this is only the beginning!
That should be good news for Bok supporters but it’s not the first time we have heard this kind of talk. The real question is: is this achievable? To which the short answer is yes … if Rassie stays involved for as long as possible.
Firstly, it is well documented that Rassie is an extremely meticulous planner in whatever he does. It would be logical therefore to expect him to carry this methodical approach into his role as Director of Rubgy. No longer will coaching staff be randomly selected and game plans drawn up on the back of cigarette packets. Coaches and players across all age groups will be aligned and familiar with the Bok way going forward. Just like with the All Blacks – succession plans will be put in place so that any personnel changes are seamless. It has been rumoured in the press that defence coach Jacques Nienaber will be the next Bok coach. Again this is the All Black way with assistant coaches moving up to the head coach role, taking the learnings from previous coaches with them and building on that.
Secondly, despite the challenges that South Africa has in terms of a weak currency, an inability to compete with overseas pay scales and therefore mass player exoduses, Rassie has always maintained that South Africa has an outstanding player pool. Our schoolboy rugby is probably of the highest standard in the world and we will keep churning out talent. The key is to how this talent is nurtured and developed. It is essential that players are brought into the fold in a managed fashion. Every young player needs a mentor – a Duane Vermeulen, a Handre Pollard, a Siya Kolisi to guide them through their early international careers. It was a stroke of genius by Rassie to take someone of the character and experience of Schalk Brits to the RWC. Not only did he play very well but he set the tone for the rest of the team in how to conduce themselves.
Finally, the Springboks are in an excellent space right now to carry their legacy into the future. There is the carrot of a Lions tour to keep some of the older heads interested in prolonging their careers. There is also a core nucleus of a team that are just entering their prime. From the tight five, “bomb squad” and all, only Beast Mtawarira could possibly be moving on. There has been no official word from Duane yet, so among the loosies, it may only be Francois Louw who leaves the fold. In the backline it could only possibly be Willie le Roux (a good time to leave on a high) and maybe Faf de Klerk who call it a day although I would expect the latter to stick around and compete with Herschel Jantjies for the scrummie spot. Add some young talent to the mix – Aphelele Fassi, Damian Willemse, Wandisile Simelane and Joseph Dweba and the future looks very bright!
This could be the beginning of a new (green and) golden era for the Springboks and their long suffering supporters.