Cape Town - I still feel that Rassie Erasmus was hard done by following his ban by World Rugby for misconduct relating to the video he made about referee Nic Berry’s performance in the first British & Irish Lions Test in June.
But the fact that Erasmus won’t be allowed in the coaching box or on the side of the field as a water carrier for most of the 2022 international season will actually benefit the development of Jacques Nienaber as the Springbok coach.
SA Rugby’s director of rugby Erasmus will surely continue to play a part in preparing the Boks for Test matches, starting with next year’s three-match series against Wales in South Africa, which is tentatively pencilled in for July 2022.
Erasmus can only rejoin the Boks on match-days after September 30, 2022, which means he will also miss the entire Rugby Championship in August and September.
The former loose forward is then able to return for the end-of-year tour, and although the schedule has not been confirmed as yet, a list of matches that formed part of the World Rugby documents on the Erasmus ruling states that the Boks may face Ireland, France, Italy and Wales in November 2022.
By then, Nienaber would’ve been in charge on his own for nine consecutive Test matches without Erasmus’ input, so it will be clear what his thinking is throughout the international season.
As much as Erasmus’ little inputs around the team and the field have been praised by the Bok players, Nienaber is the coach. The fact is that the defence guru has not been in such a position before, and even when Erasmus missed a few games this year, he showed in videos posted on social media that he was still in contact with Nienaber via his laptop on matchday.
Nienaber, to his credit, has never shied away from the fact that there is a collective decision-making process in the Bok camp on matchdays, with feedback given by all the coaches, including Erasmus – whether he is pitch-side or in the upstairs box.
But with no Erasmus around on matchday for the first nine Tests of 2022, Nienaber will have an opportunity to take even greater responsibility for the team.
The big calls during a game will centre around when he introduces the “Bomb Squad” front row, if and when he brings on replacement halfbacks such as Herschel and Elton Jantjies, or whether he pulls off a player battling on the day, as happened to Willie le Roux against Wales in Cardiff a few weeks ago.
It will be a fascinating journey for Nienaber and the team, as they have always had Erasmus’ guiding hand to assist them since 2018.
Dealing with the pressure that comes with being the coach will be an interesting challenge for Nienaber, as he hasn’t been in charge of a team before, and it will throw up a number of scenarios for the players, fellow coaches and Bok fans.
Will he stick to the pre-game plan that he would’ve discussed with Erasmus and the rest of the management? Or if the game is in the balance, will he take a risk and go off-script?
It can only be a good thing for everybody involved with the Boks, as it will teach them to operate without Erasmus if he is unavailable for whatever reason in future, which will ensure that all bases are covered ahead of the defence of their World Cup title in 2023 …