The Springbok rugby coach race has started according to some scribes and fans. The reality is that there won’t be any clarity in the immediate future.
There has been a lot of commentary from various sources and fans. Managing Editor Ryan Jordan is of the opinion that there won’t be any decision made public until at least January 2024. Current Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber vacates his position after the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. He has opted to join Leinster in Ireland to work under Leo Cullen as their defense coach.
Springbok rugby coach race – the options
The appointment of a new coach will not be announced in a hurry, but it is still worthwhile laying out the options available to SA Rugby and what their likely thinking will be. The options below are not an exhaustive list of who may be in the reckoning by fans or scribes. They are however indicative of where SA Rugby’s sentiments are likely to be.
The “overseas” options
When it comes to non-South African options, various names have been bandied about. These are mostly coaches who have had their shot at the big time. Their possible availability is a result of them not being contracted to any of the top-tier nations.
Their availability should not improve their desirability. This is unlikely to happen anyway. The South African player will not respond well to a coach trying to force a style of play on them that is foreign (pun intended) to them. An overseas coach will also have no context when it comes to the unique dynamics at play in South Africa. This is one aspect that Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus excelled at and took advantage of. Overseas options can be scratched out of the Springbok rugby coach race.
The experienced and well-traveled South African options
There are a few interesting South African coaches plying their trade overseas who could be in the reckoning.
Johann van Graan
Van Graan is building on his CV. He has served as an assistant coach at the Bulls and Springboks. He served as Munster Head Coach from 2017 to 2022. In 2022, he took the Head Coach job at Bath in England. At 42 years old, he has more than enough time to fulfill his contract at Bath and still be considered for the Springbok coach job later.
Ackermann is best remembered for taking the Emirates Lions from the rugby wilderness after being relegated from Super Rugby to consecutive finals. He then did a four-year stint at Gloucester in England and then two years at Red Hurricanes in Japan. He currently coaches at another Japanese club, second-division side Shining Arcs. It would appear that his career is moving more backward than forward.
Smith is an interesting option. He does have an interesting CV. He has coached university team Shimlas, as well as the Cheetahs and Italy before doing a stint as Italy’s Head of High Performance. He now coaches the Scottish team Glasgow Warriors. At 50 years old, he is in the same boat as van Graan.
Could any of these options really be in the Springbok rugby coach race? Probably not. Van Graan and Smith do offer varied experiences. The likelihood for both of them is that they don’t have a cost-free exit clause from their current contracts. Neither are currently within the Springbok set-up either, which does not speak well for continuity. Ackermann is out of the Springbok loop and it is also a concern that he is coaching a second-division team. Appointing him would be almost impossible to justify.
The local options
A few local coaches have been put forward as possible candidates. We consider the most popular coaches suggested.
Dobson has progressed through the structures of the Western Province Rugby Union. He coached the University of Cape Town (Ikeys) to the Varsity Cup playoffs. He then took over the reins of the Western Province Under-21 and Vodacom Cup teams. He progressed to take over the Currie Cup and then on to the Head Coach job at the Stormers. He leads them to the URC title on their first attempt.
Stonehouse is a very popular coach in South Africa. He has an extensive coaching CV. The bulk of this has been in South Africa, with a stint each in Russia and Japan. His claim to fame was to build the Pumas over many years into a Currie Cup-winning team in 2022.
White is a Rugby World Cup-winning coach and cannot be disregarded out of hand. He also has an extensive CV to offer, so there is no shortage of experience. He has coached in South Africa, Australia, and France.
Erasmus also presents an extensive CV, with the highlight being the 2019 Rugby World Cup victory. He has also coached the Cheetahs, Stormers, and Munster. His current role is Director of Rugby at SA Rugby.
Are these viable options in the Springbok rugby coach race? Probably not. Dobson is likely the most suitable candidate, but he is more likely to be pulled into the Springbok setup as an assistant coach. Stonehouse will always be popular but doesn’t have the regional competition experience that could clinch the deal. There is no Super Rugby, URC, or the like. Does Erasmus really want to be the Head Coach again? Most likely not.
Jake White is an enigma. His departure from his Springbok tenure was not an amicable one. His media persona can also be confusing. Recently, he stated that if the Bulls didn’t think he was the man for the job he would leave. After that, he put up his hand to state he would take the Springbok coach job if his employers agreed to it. Would SA Rugby want to go through this again?
The most likely options
The Springbok rugby coach race is most likely to be a two-horse race. Rassie Erasmus is most likely to keep his office job and will have a significant influence in making the appointment. He is known for being loyal to those with who he has placed his trust. Being part of the current coaching setup would therefore most likely be a pre-requisite.
Do not be surprised if the shortlist comprises two Erasmus trustees. Deon Davids and Mzwandile “Michael” Stick. Both have been under Erasmus’ tutelage for a long time as assistant coaches. The reason for this entire conversation is the departure of Jacques Nienaber who in reality, was an Erasmus appointee. Davids and Stick have been the two coaches running the marathon course. Sprint options (new blood) appear to out of the equation.
What are the chances of anything being significantly different?