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Jonathan Bradley: Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus will be a hard act to follow

Rassie Erasmus did not think South Africa could win the World Cup until the tournament had started (David Davies/PA)
Rassie Erasmus did not think South Africa could win the World Cup until the tournament had started (David Davies/PA)
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Tomorrow marks the two-year anniversary of Rassie Erasmus's last game in charge of Munster.

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The seven-try rout of the Dragons that night provided a fitting send-off for a man who had helped settle the ship during choppy waters in Limerick before showing a real understanding of what it meant to be in charge of the province during the dark days following Anthony Foley's tragic passing.

As he left for the last time though, the message may well have been one of "good luck...you'll surely need it."

Heading home, the South African looked to have quite the job on his hands taking charge of his national side who had suffered what was then seen as the indignity of losing to Japan at the last World Cup and had declined further still since. The tenure of Allister Coetzee, who replaced Heyneke Meyer after 2015, had been a disaster, the low-points including but not limited to defeat to Italy, a 57-0 thumping at the hands of New Zealand and a 38-3 humbling in Dublin against Ireland.

Having originally announced he was leaving Munster to be South African Director of Rugby, the situation with the Boks was so dire come that winter of 2017 that it was decided Erasmus would have to take over the day-to-day coaching too.

Who then could have predicted he'd have his hands on the Webb Ellis trophy so soon?

Having been brought to Ireland to restore Munster to silverware-winning prominence, instead he used the time to engineer the most dramatically swift turnaround in World Cup history, building a victorious side in just 26 Test matches

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From the significant choice of Siya Kolisi as his captain, to the abolishing of the 30-cap rule for European-based players that allowed for the selection of Cheslin Kolbe, Faf de Klerk and others, he has revitalised a unit had become a sad shadow of their former selves.

Speaking after last week's semi-final win over Wales, Kolisi revealed the frank exchanges from the first squad meeting in Johannesburg, a retelling that will have sparked memories in some of a similarly blunt assessment upon arrival in Thomond Park.

In the case of the Boks, he chastised the squad for focusing too much on the pay cheque, too much on social media profiles, and not enough on what the jersey meant to the people at home. In Kolisi's eyes, he has been the agent of change that brought a once disparate squad together - the buy in from his bench at this tournament a tell-tale sign of 31 individuals all now pulling in the same direction.

South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus drew praise from Brian O’Driscoll for his side’s performance (David Davies/PA)
South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus drew praise from Brian O’Driscoll for his side’s performance (David Davies/PA)

It has not all been plain sailing. Consistency was still lacking in those early days and in his first Rugby Championship a largest ever defeat to Argentina was followed up by a reverse in Australia. Sat in Yokohama, with the gleaming World Cup trophy in front of him, Erasmus claimed that had they lost the next game he would have resigned there and then. Instead, they secured a famous win over the All Blacks in Wellington.

Now, with a third World Cup title in the books, the rest is history.

There have been criticisms of their style at this tournament, of a heavy reliance on the kicking game, but their performance in the final was nothing akin to what had preceded it. It was a gameplan built around physicality - the Boks once again look like the Boks - but where it was pedestrian against Wales, they thrilled against England. Their desire and intensity, as well as two fine tries, was truly a sight to behold and one deserving of the crown they will wear for the next four years.

Once the celebration dies down, the next big decision looms.

Having essentially appointed himself to replace Coetzee, Erasmus will now need to find his own successor having confirmed during the week that this will be the end of his double-jobbing.

Whoever that proves to be, there's one heck of an act to follow.

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