Erasmus the Springboks puppet master who divides opinionFri, 27 Oct 2023 02:50:24 GMT

South African director of rugby Rassie Erasmus describes himself in his biography as “a quiet, uncomplicated person” and far from the extrovert many perceive him to be.The 50-year-old is certainly someone who divides opinion, with his supporters as forthright in their defence of him as those in the opposing camp are in venting their spleen.On the one hand, while head coach and faithful long-time assistant Jacques Nienaber’s role cannot be underestimated, there is no doubting Erasmus’ brilliance in pulling the right rabbits out of the hat when it comes to selection.That skill was seen to great effect in the 29-28 victory over hosts France in the quarter-finals.He surprised almost everybody in picking half-back partnership Manie Libbok and Cobus Reinach ahead of the more conservative Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk.It worked like a dream, the Springboks matching the hosts’ vibrant attack and then sending on Pollard and de Klerk to settle things down in the second half.However, on the dark side has been his rants against referees, allied with sarcastic tweets about them, which has landed him in trouble.World Rugby banned him for 12 months after he savaged referee Nic Berry in the first Test with the British and Irish Lions in 2021.He received a further two-match ban shortly afterwards for tweets directed at Wayne Barnes for his refereeing of last November’s 30-26 defeat by the French.By coincidence the 44-year-old Englishman is Saturday’s referee.Erasmus and Nienaber — who moved up to become head coach after the 2019 World Cup — appear polar opposites, the latter the straight man in a comedy double act, the former the charismatic scene stealer.Together they turned round a shambolic Springboks side and within two years the man Erasmus picked as the Springboks’ first black Test captain, Siya Kolisi, lifted the World Cup trophy.- ‘Hold his hand’ -Erasmus, who reached the 1999 World Cup semi-final as a player, can make ill-judged remarks. His unfulfilled promise to hang his 2019 medal over the headstone of the late Munster head coach Axel Foley is poorly viewed in Ireland — but like a bible-thumping preacher he can also strike a chord.After the 2019 win in Japan he put into perspective the pressure he and the players had been under.”Pressure is one of your close relatives being murdered,” he said.”South Africa has a lot of problems and we started talking about how rugby shouldn’t be something that puts pressure on you.”It should be something that creates hope.”Hope is not talking about hope and saying hope and tweeting a good tweet about hope, hope is when you play well.” Erasmus insists in his biography “Rassie: Stories of Life and Rugby”, the real him is far removed from the one that piques his many detractors.”I may come across as a loudmouth, opinionated, arrogant, unrepentant … people think I’m extroverted, but I’m not,” he says.Erasmus’s loose use of language and disregard for the consequences jars with his sensitivity surrounding his upbringing with an alcoholic father.”He (his father) slapped himself on his legs over and over again … it upset me and I wanted to protect him, so I would lie next to him and hold his hand … Some nights you felt he would never stop,” Erasmus recounts in his biography.Erasmus’s father worked for the Bantu Administration during apartheid where his job was to give out the ‘dompas’, the document that black South Africans were obliged to carry.Apartheid had an effect not only on the Erasmus household but also on Rassie in a rugby context.His revolutionary shake-up of the system in South African rugby opened the way for under-privileged children under 15 to play the game.”I wanted to help people avoid embarrassment for what we’ve done –- not just apartheid but how we tried to fix things which ended up embarrassing black and white people,” he told the Guardian last month.The introduction of the Elite Player Development (EPD) in 2013 bore fruit with a couple of the players forming part of the 2019 World Cup-winning team.”My greatest moment was not holding the World Cup,” Erasmus told the Guardian.”It was watching those players create and score tries in the final and trust each other.”The EPD was my biggest achievement.”