As a player Rassie Erasmus was big, strong, fast, tough, skillful and committed but like many star players he believed he knew better than his coaches and showed little respect for the system. He was a maverick that did things the way he wanted. In a Springbok top there were numerous outstanding performances, in a Cheetahs top there were totally dominant performances.
As a coach I have worked with young players that are head and shoulders above their peers I have seen first hand how these players behave. These players on their own can turn a game, quite often it is down to them to win the game. It becomes very difficult for these players to stay grounded and humble. They are so influential on their teammates that their teammates start listening to the star player ahead of their coach. These star players begin to think that the team revolves around them and react badly to criticism often causing a rift between player and coach. No matter how good the player is the system, gameplan or team is always more important than the individual. When the star player no longer plays to the system and starts overriding instructions this is when the system collapses. The failure inevitably is blamed on the coach and the star player remains the star in the eyes of the media and supporters.
Of course what I say in these posts is just how I feel by looking at the situation from a distance as a standard SA Rugby supporter. I have never met Rassie or even talked to people who know him.
Rassie was bought to come play rugby for the Golden Lions in 2000. Another in a long line of money wasting stupid ideas from the administration. I think the move was worth R15 million. With Rassie’s commitments to the Springboks and the Cats (the Cats was the franchise that represented the Lions and the Cheetahs), he only had a few appearances for the Golden Lions(I think it was only 3 games) before returning to Bloemfontein.For that kind of money Rassie was laughing all the way to the bank. Strange that the Lions president never phoned the Cheetahs President warning him that this guy will cost you money.
Rassie was captain of the Cats when they made the Super 12 semi-finals in 2001. Under Laurie Mains the Cats had their two most successful seasons(2000-2001) in their existance (1998-2005). Finishing fourth on the log in 2000 but getting knocked out in the semi-finals then again being knocked out in the semi-finals in 2001 but finishing the log one better in third.
All was not well in the Cats camp. I read this in Victor Matfields book, My Journey “one morning I was receiving treatment in the physio’s room when I heard Rassie and Smiley (Werner Swanepoel) discussing how they planned to get the Free State and Griquas players to revolt against Laurie. Rassie worked hard and put in many extra hours analysing video recordings of games, but Laurie didn’t like it one bit when Rassie made suggestions during team meetings…..”
As a coach you need people to buy into your system and for everyone to be following that system. By Rassie making those suggestions it was probably felt by Laurie that Rassie was implying that the system needed improving and Rassie knew how. From my limited experience as coach I have learnt many things from my players but what I have always felt is that my knowledge of rugby gives me an overall understanding of the game and players often want to give you a specific idea or an area to improve on which may help in the short term, but fails to improve the overall standard of the squad in the long term. Rassie’s attempts at getting the players to revolt against Laurie were deceitful and under-handed and shows cowardice that he did not continue to confront Laurie head on. If Rassie had ideas it should not have been brought up in team meetings he should have approached his Coach with his ideas in a 1 on 1 meeting.
Rassie finished his playing career off in Bloem. In 2006 the Super 12 was expanded to become the Super 14 with the Western Force and the Cheetahs being the two new teams. The Cats effectively were split into the Lions and the Cheetahs. Rassie became the coach of the Cheetahs and finished the season with 5 wins out of 13 games but in 2007 the Cheetahs won only 4 out of 13 games.
Rassie seemed hell bent on proving that he was doing special things with the Cheetahs, thinking outside the box and to show off how inovative he was. Rassie would even climb on the stadium roof and flash different coloured lights at the players on the pitch. Presumably this was to get some sort of message to the players on the pitch about different plays. I remember Joel Stransky saying in commentary something like “He is flashing those lights but I can’t really see a change in the way the Cheetahs are playing.” The truth is the Cheetahs got worse from 2006 to 2007. Bloemfontein on matchday seemed to be the Rassie Erasmus show. Many of the South African rugby supporters were conned and to this day think that Rassie is a rugby genius. The Stormers shared this view and Rassie was given the Head coach position at the Stormers and Director of rugby at Western Province in 2008. After Rassie left the Cheetahs, 2008 was a dismal year for them with only 1 win. Naka Drotske had taken over and spent many seasons trying to rebuild the Cheetahs before handing the baton onto Franco Smith.
What did Rassie achieve with a star studded Stormers team while he was involved? Nothing really. The rugby that the Stormers played became progressively worse and when Allister Coetzee took over the Head Coach’s job with Rassie working in the background as Director of rugby things got even worse. Everytime things get worse Rassie jumps ship. His next move was to to be the General Manager of the High Performance team of SARU. When first Heyneke Meyer made history with the Springboks for all the wrong reasons and then Allister Coetzee compounding and continuing Meyers hatchet job of the Springbok legacy, Rassie decided to jump ship once again.
He is now with Irish Pro12 side Munster. I have written some of my thoughts on what Rassie is doing with Munster in a previous post.https://attheground.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/munster-are-fast-becoming-a-domkrag-team/. The rugby that teams that Rassie has coached has been nothing but Domkrag rugby. Do I think that Rassie actually knew better than Laurie Mains? No.