It’s really starting to look like a two-horse race between Deon Davids and Jacques Nienaber for the top Bok head coaching role but could we see a Rassie bolter? Shortly after the RWC final, MyTwoCents speculated on a host of potential candidates for the job with several of them having fallen away as time progressed. Of late, the media has focussed on the above to candidates, but it wouldn’t surprise us if Rassie has a shock in store.
Excellent coaches like Franco Smith, who has now formally committed to the Italy job and Johan Ackermann, extending with Gloucester and also on reflection probably too single-minded to take orders from Rassie as Director of Rugby, are no longer considered to be in the conversation.
John Plumtree and John Mitchell – Kiwi, yet considered almost half South African for their time spent on our soil – were always long shots. Despite having outstanding tactical brains, the feeling post World Cup is that, more than ever before, local is lekker. Mitchell recently signed an extension to his assistant role at England with possibly an eye on the head coach job should Eddie Jones experience a post World Cup wobble or another case of “foot-in-mouth disease”. “Plum” is the current head coach of the Hurricanes and it would be difficult to divert his loyalty at this late stage even if he was a candidate.
Back to Davids and Nienaber.
Nienaber may have a slight edge through his extremely close relationship with Rassie that has been built over many years. They have been together at the Free State, Western Province, Munster and now the Boks. Under most circumstances Nienaber would be the logical choice …. BUT … could you confidently pick him out of a police line up? The answer for most people would be NO. That is not a slight against Nienaber in any way shape or form. It merely speaks to the man he is – humble, focussed and shunning of the limelight.
As alluded to above, the role of Springbok coach is one that puts you up for immediate public scrutiny. You could be the smartest tactician in the world but if you aren’t able to handle the intense pressure and constant second-guessing that comes with the role of Springbok head coach then you will struggle. Even the grandmaster himself, Rassie Erasmus, got heavily second-guessed during the RWC. Why is he sticking with Willie Le Roux? Why the overuse of the box kick? Has he chosen the right lock combination? The list goes on. Nienaber himself may prefer to remain focussed on what he does so well and that is dissect and defuse opponents’ attacking options.
Davids has always been well liked by Rassie. He was also invited to attend the Springbok training camp for the Rugby Championship back in July. In true Rassie fashion, he deflected the anticipated attention on this development by saying that we should read nothing into it. Just like when he told the media that he would absolutely be sticking to the same kick-and-chase game plan in the final. Davids’ teams play attractive rugby and he has an eye for talent – he gave Makazole Mapimpi his break at the Kings …. BUT … he was recently fired by the Kings and has a woeful winning record. That said, it would be difficult to imagine any coach manufacturing any kind of record with the Kings’ lack of resources and player pool. It could be argued that he got the best out of his players that he possibly could.
How about Mzwandile Stick? Certainly, there would be some merit behind this decision. Stick played a key role in the Springboks successful campaign having been backed by Rassie. He was also excellent in handling the media and getting the right messages across during that time – a task and criteria not to be underestimated as central to being a successful Bok coach. Rassie has hinted that the next coach could come from within the existing team – with Rassie’s guidance, Stick could certainly handle the role. An equally compelling case could be made for giving Stick a bit more time within the structures to develop experience with a view to taking on the role in years to come, rather than throwing him into the lion’s den this early in his career.
Matthew Proudfoot ticks plenty of boxes. He is confident in front of the cameras, speaks a strong game and has the record to back it up. Never have we seen a Springbok pack this dominant. He is a massive asset to the Boks and would make an excellent coach. He has also worked with Rassie at the Stormers so they have a history. The players love him and remember the Springbok game plan is built around a dominant pack.
All the talk and speculation right now is focussed on Nienaber and Davids – just don’t be shocked if Rassie pulls a rabbit out of the hat with either Stick or Proudfoot.