Any person taking over at the helm of the Springboks, as Director of Rugby and Head Coach, finds themselves in a very tough position. Fans will want results from the beginning, but this won’t be sustainable if Springbok rugby stays in the dark ages in terms of structures. Somehow these two goals need to go hand in hand, which isn’t easy to accomplish, and Rassie Erasmus will need some staunch support from the team he has surrounded himself with.
Rassie Erasmus: a Monumental Task
There is no doubting the raw talent that South African rugby has at its disposal. Genetically blessed with physical specimens that easily match or supersede those of other nations, plus school coaches who nurture rugby players in allowing them to express themselves on the field. No matter which schoolboy team is sent to international competitions, like the Sanix Tournament in Japan, they usually end up coming up trumps.
Following on from schoolboy level, there are local competitions like Varsity Cup and Gold Cup, which should allow for this talent to further shine through, and in most cases it does. The beauty of these competitions is that these players are treated as amateurs, either holding jobs outside of the game or studying towards degrees in all sorts of fields. More emphasis should be placed on these amateurs and semi-pros!
The Professional Structure
The problem area lies in the professional space. There are over 950 contracted rugby players in the country – which is probably double the amount needed. Compare that with the 200-odd that current Six Nations Champions, Ireland, have on their national books; and you’ll be able to put this in perspective.
This causes a whole host of potential problems. Firstly, there is a plethora of youngsters trying to make it as professionals in unions that don’t allow for progression. They lie stagnant, waiting for an opportunity that may never come. They then struggle to transition out of the sport when they decide to ‘retire’.
The majority of owners, managers and coaches of these unions have been there since the 1980s and they haven’t changed the way they manage or coach rugby players. Agents also want to keep the players in the system as they only earn money if the player keeps playing, which is sad.
Big lumps of human end up getting taught to run at the man instead of at the space. Skill levels that were honed at schoolboy level are left to fade away into the sunset and the rugby public then wonder why the lucky break for these players doesn’t come.
Changing the structure
This is where Rassie and his team should focus. To fundamentally change the way rugby is structured at a professional, semi-professional and amateur level that allows for talent to be nurtured the whole way through. At the same time, more focus needs to be put on the life of a player outside of the sport so that we are not faced with so many stories of failure post retirement.
As a suggestion; they should reduce the number of unions to the six biggest catchment areas. Each union then has a cap on the number of players they can contract, to begin with it could sit at 100 across all age groups. This gives us 600 contracted rugby players.
The rest then filter down to their local clubs or universities. All contracted players coming back from injury must follow a process of playing for their local team (club or university) before being brought back into the professional fold. Imagine what this would do for the semi-professional and amateur fan base and viewership!
Changing the structure, both politically and managerially in any institution in South Africa is very difficult, but this in the only way to ensure that any future Springbok team consistently ranks in the top three in the world.
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