All eyes will be on Rassie Erasmus for the next few days, in the run-up to the Springboks’ match against Ireland on Saturday.
The sometimes controversial director of South African Rugby (Saru) already had tongues wagging during the first round of the tournament with the “traffic lights” with which he signaled to medical officers from the coaches’ box.
However, it is his statements about upcoming Saturday’s referee, Ben O’Keeffe, both in the run-up to and after the game, that are being watched with a particularly close eye.
This after his criticism of referees has landed him in the soup in the past, such as when he ran his mouth about Nic Berry in the first test between the Boks and the British and Irish Lions in 2021. At the time, World Rugby suspended him for 12 months banished from the field.
His tweets in November last year about the English official Wayne Barnes made the rugby world’s blood really boil, especially when Barnes’ wife later complained on Twitter that he and his family were receiving death threats. At the time, Rassie made sarcastic comments about the referee’s decisions during a match between South Africa and France. For this he was banned from the coaches’ box for another two weeks.
Despite his sharp tongue and apparent gift for making his opponents laugh, Erasmus has a quieter, softer side. This is clearly evident in his biography Race: Stories of Life and Rugby, which was released earlier this year. He co-wrote the book with journalist David O’Sullivan.
In this, Erasmus describes himself as a “quiet, uncomplicated guy”. “I may come across as big-mouthed, headstrong and arrogant. People think I’m an extrovert, but I’m not. I find social events difficult.”
In the book, Erasmus describes his growing up years in Despatch, a small town in the Eastern Cape, and his obsession with rugby from a young age.
He also tells that he grew up with an alcoholic father in the house and how he would take care of his father when he was drunk. “He (his father), would beat his legs non-stop. It upset me and I wanted to protect him, so I would lie next to him and hold his hand.” He would also drive away as a 10-year-old with his mother and sisters in his father’s car.
Erasmus’ father was a government official in the then apartheid government and part of his job was to issue dompasses to black people. The inequalities of apartheid seem to have had a great impact on Erasmus in the context of rugby and in later years he campaigned for the development of previously disadvantaged players.
“I wanted to help people not to be embarrassed about what we did. Not only in terms of apartheid, but also how we tried to fix things – which in the end shamed black and white people,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian last month.
In this he says that it was “cool” to win the World Cup in 2019, “but the most beautiful thing is what we have through this”. He refers to the ability that the 2019 Rugby World Cup tournament had to unite black and white South Africans in their support of the Springboks.
In 2019, Erasmus was at the helm of the Springbok team that lifted the Webb Ellis trophy in Yokohama. Rumors have been doing the rounds in recent months that Erasmus is strongly on his way to accepting a coaching position in Ireland, but Erasmus nipped those allegations in the bud on Tuesday and said he has no plans to leave Saru before 2025.
Regarding the upcoming game on Saturday, Erasmus said, “We will have to work hard and give everything on the field. In addition to Ireland’s good attacking and defensive structures, they are also technically very correct.”