Springboks’ smart succession plan the reason why Rugby World Cup ‘threepeat’ is on

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and captain Siya Kolisi have enjoyed great success, which includes two Rugby World Cup titles. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and captain Siya Kolisi have enjoyed great success, which includes two Rugby World Cup titles. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

Published Mar 17, 2024


It’s almost unfathomable to think that Siya Kolisi may not captain the Springboks ever again.

Kolisi has been such an influential presence in the green and gold jersey, on and off the field since he was appointed as captain back in 2018.

On it, he has been an understated leader who has helped to mould a never-say-die culture, while doing the dirty grafting so that others can shine.

Off it, he has become a symbol of hope and perseverance, becoming the most successful captain in Springboks history after growing up in extreme poverty and hardship. South Africans adore him, opponents respect him.

Coach Rassie Erasmus would probably love Kolisi to remain captain of the team, but, while he is a very emotional man, especially when it comes to the Springboks and his players, he tends to make sober decisions which he thinks would be best for the Boks and South African rugby.

Erasmus recently said Kolisi's contract with French club Racing 92 did not prevent him from playing for the Springboks, and that he would be considered for selection but not necessarily as captain because he prefers his captain to be locally based.

Kolisi will also be 36 by the time the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia comes along, which puts his participation in doubt, although a pair of 37-year-olds Deon Fourie and Duane Vermeulen still contributed greatly to the Boks’ 2023 triumph in France.

Erasmus said he had a good idea of which players would remain in contention for the 2027 World Cup defence, but added that older players remained part of his short-term plans.

"We know exactly which players we think can last another year and we have given them specific tasks to help the youngsters before they leave here," he said.

But this is the type of honesty and sober decision-making and succession planning that has helped Erasmus get the Springboks back on top of the rugby food chain.

After the 2007 World Cup triumph, the Boks were expected to dominate the world, and they were by far the best team on the planet in 2009 when they beat the British and Irish Lions and won the Tri-Nations under the guidance of Peter de Villiers.

But between 2010 and 2018, before Erasmus took over, there was no real plans to where you could see the Boks growing into a force.

Both De Villiers and Heyneke Meyer relied on the core of Jake White’s 2007 team to try and win a World Cup, while Allister Coetzee had his hands tied in terms of selecting overseas-based players.

There was no clear strategy to build depth or make that unpopular decision to drop a John Smit when he was already past his best in 2011, or going into the 2015 World Cup with a group of underdone players who were also on the wrong side of 30.

“A rolling stone gathers no moss ...” That is Erasmus’ in a nutshell. He doesn’t want the Springboks to stand still, like they did after the 2007 win.

“Always change, doing transformation – and by that, I’m not saying black in, white out. I’m saying change – change the way you do things, trying to stay cutting edge, trying to stay up there,” Erasmus said

It’s why he has also freshened up this backroom staff, with guys who can bring new knowledge, fresh ideas and energy.

Getting Tony Brown as an attack coach is game-changer for the Springboks, and the one appointment that can take them to the next level.

The power game, mauling, scrumming and being physical will always be the bedrock of the Springboks’ game, but for many years they haven’t been able to take advantage the field position milking set-piece penalties has given them.

Brown was a wonderfully creative flyhalf, and did wonders with the Japanese backline in years gone by. If he can get the Springboks to convert about 30% more of their chances in opposition 22, it’s hard see anybody being able to stay with Bok team who can hurt you upfront and at the back.

“Tony and (defence coach) Jerry (Flannery) bring a fresh perspective from different rugby environments and it’s lekker to hear new voices on how we’ve been doing things and how we might do them in the future,” said Erasmus.

“As we said before last year’s tournament, there was no way that we would be successful if we kept doing things in the same way.

“We need to evolve our game once more, as teams will definitely have looked at how we play, and how they think they can stop us.”

The Springboks, with new ideas and a lot of new talent coming through, are as strong as ever. It remains to be seen if Kolisi will still be in the mix as captain, but whatever happens, it’s clear that Erasmus is not going to rest on his laurels as long he is still in charge of the team.


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