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The Top Springbok Coaching Candidates

Springbok Decade Series: 2018

28 November 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

The Top Springbok Coaching Candidates

Finding the right man to replace Rassie Erasmus will be crucial to ensure the Springboks build on rather than squander the success of their golden 2019 season, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Many who’ve come before him had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve without a proper plan to back it up. That’s what separated Erasmus from so many of his predecessors during his short and spectacular tenure at the helm of the Springboks.

When he inherited a side in shambles – the once-mighty Springbok on its deathbed – in 2017, he did so with the enthusiasm, passion and dedication shared by all who’ve held the position over the years. However, the key to his incredible success was the short and long-term plans he had in place when he took over from Allister Coetzee to restore South African rugby to its former glory.

The renaissance man did exactly that and then some, exceeded all expectations as he masterminded a maiden Rugby Championship title and a third World Cup crown this year. Finishing his transformative tenure on the ultimate high, Erasmus relinquished the head coach role following the 32-12 win over England in the World Cup final in Yokohama to focus all of his energy on his duties as director of rugby.

Post World Cup celebrations, fans now eagerly await the all-important announcement of the new head coach, intrigue that’s set to continue until the South African Rugby Union’s annual general meeting on January 16. Defence coach Jacques Nienaber is tipped to take over, but in South African rugby, nothing is a done deal until the ink has dried on paper.

With that in mind, here are the leading candidates to assume the role often described as the most difficult job in South Africa:

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Like Erasmus, Ackermann knows a thing or two about transforming teams. He created a dynasty as Lions coach, guiding them to two consecutive Super Rugby finals in 2016 and 2017. While he’s a tactically-astute mentor, his greatest strength is man-management.

He’s an expert culture-creator who forms an unrivalled rapport with his players – a genuine personal bond that brings the best out of his charges. It’s this approach that saw him mould a bunch of “no-name” players into Springboks during his time in Johannesburg.

He’s following a similar modus operandi at Gloucester, building a squad around a core group of Lions he took with him. He recently signed a two-year contract extension with the English club, so it could be a costly affair to lure him back to South Africa.

Prior to the recent Nienaber reports, Davids was considered the favourite to take over the baton. After parting ways with the Kings earlier this year, Davids shadowed Erasmus during the Springboks’ Rugby Championship training camp and was also spotted coming out of a team meeting at the time, leading to speculation that his grooming period had begun.

His four-year tenure at the Kings ended on a disappointing note as the side endured two tough PRO14 seasons, but when the Eastern Cape team still had their top players, prior to their Super Rugby axing, they ended the 2017 season above the Bulls and Cheetahs. He served as assistant coach of the Emerging Springboks in 2008 and the Junior Springboks in 2009, so if he loses out on the top job, he may well be offered an assistant role.

One of two former Springbok coaches in the discussion, Meyer’s in the market after falling on his sword as Stade Français coach recently. His stint in Paris proved disastrous, to the point that the players refused to follow his territorial game plan. His French failure came down to the fact that, in hindsight, the former Bulls boss was a bad fit. Like Ackermann, Meyer’s a master man-manager, so the fact he failed to win the locker room meant he never truly stood a chance.

The Stade Français fiasco aside, Meyer is a proven world-class coach. He built a dynasty unlike any other during his time in Pretoria, becoming the first South African coach to win a Super Rugby title in 2007. This is the most applicable period of his career as far as he’s chances of a second term as Springbok coach is concerned as the game plan he employed became the blueprint for Erasmus’ World Cup winners this year. His disappointing tenure as Bok coach from 2012 to 2015, it must be said, hurts his chances.

When Netwerk24 revealed that Nienaber was likely to assume the hot seat, it came as a surprise. On one hand, it makes sense, given his close relationship with Erasmus; they’ve known each other since the ’90s with Nienaber serving as Erasmus’ right-hand man at the Free State Cheetahs, Stormers, Munster and finally, the Springboks. In fact, Erasmus’ first order of business as Springbok boss was to appoint his close ally as defence coach. In that regard, Nienaber’s one of the best in the world.

The surprise factor is the fact that Nienaber has never been a head coach…at any level. It’s unheard of that someone with no prior experience could potentially be named Springbok coach, but with Erasmus having told media that he’ll “work very closely with the new head coach”, such an appointment, in this unique case, is understandable.

Although not to the same extent as Nienaber, Van Graan is an ally of Erasmus, who he replaced as Munster mentor in 2017. He’s no stranger to the Springbok set-up, first entering the fray as Meyer’s technical adviser in 2012. He evolved into forwards coach, a role he continued under Coetzee after emerging as the only survivor of the post-2015 World Cup restructuring process.

He’s made steady progress at Munster, guiding the Irish club to the semi-finals of both the PRO14 and the Champions Cup last year. He signed a contract extension in April, a deal that will see him remain at the club until June 2022, but he reportedly has a similar “escape” clause that allowed Erasmus to return to South Africa.

Currently the boss brain at Japanese club Toyota Verblitz, White has long made his desire to re-enter the Test arena known. Much like Erasmus, he resuscitated an ailing Springbok brand, rebuilding and sculpting a squad who would go on to win South Africa’s second World Cup crown in France in 2007, after which he was inexplicably let go.

Their remarkable rescue missions are the only similarity between them. White, in fact, is the polar opposite of Erasmus, personality-wise and in terms of his coaching philosophy and style. A former teacher, White is a well-documented and unapologetic authoritarian, an approach that’s proved successful but also unpopular.

The most recent example of this came from legendary loosehead Tendai Mtawarira, who in his new book “Beast” revealed Sharks players felt White had treated them like schoolboys during his time in Durban. The clash of styles and his complicated history with SA Rugby make a White return highly unlikely.

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Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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