The coach who guided the Boks to World Cup glory in 2019 is now the country’s DoR. Jon Cardinelli charts his journey

Who is Rassie Erasmus: Ten things you should know about the South Africa director of rugby

Rassie Erasmus is a former Springbok flanker who has gone on to coach the Cheetahs, Stormers, Munster and the South Africa national side. In 2019, he guided the Boks to the Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup titles, as well as the World Rugby No 1 ranking.

Here are a few more facts and stats about the director of rugby who will be heavily involved with the Springboks during the British & Irish Lions 2021 tour of South Africa.

Ten things you should know about Rassie Erasmus

1. Rassie Erasmus made his debut for the Springboks in the third and final Test against the Lions in 1997. The Lions had already won the series by that point, yet the Boks – with Erasmus in tow – restored a bit of pride via a convincing win at Ellis Park.

2. Erasmus started in all of his 36 Tests for South Africa. Between 1997 and 1998, he was a regular for Nick Mallet’s trend-setting team that won the Tri-Nations for the first time and equalled the record for the most consecutive Test victories (17).

Rassie Erasmus

Rassie Erasmus in action for South Africa at RWC 1999 (Getty Images)

Erasmus was part of the side that travelled to the 1999 World Cup in Wales. He often speaks about the semi-final – which South Africa lost narrowly to eventual champions Australia – and his failed attempt to charge down Stephen Larkham’s match-clinching drop-goal.

3. Erasmus enjoyed a leadership role at Free State and at his Super 12 franchise, the Cats. He was handed the Springbok captain’s armband for one Test against the Wallabies in 1999 – but declined the responsibility when it was offered at a later date.

4. Mallett remembers Erasmus as a player who was ahead of his time in terms of preparation and analysis. While on tour with the Boks in the late 1990s, Erasmus would travel with a computer and printer– which was no mean feat considering the size of the equipment in those days.

5. He received his first opportunity to coach the Free State Vodacom Cup team while recovering from a leg injury in 2004. The following season, Erasmus was backed to coach the Free State senior side, and steered them to the Currie Cup title. Free State shared the domestic trophy with the Bulls in 2006 after drawing the final.

6. Bok coach Jake White recruited Erasmus as a technical advisor ahead of the 2007 World Cup. Erasmus was heavily involved in the preparations, but did not travel with the team to France, as he’d already accepted an offer to coach the Stormers.

Rassie Erasmus

Rassie Erasmus previously coached the Stormers (Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Eddie Jones replaced Erasmus in that role, and claimed a World Cup winner’s medal later that year. Many of the Bok players from that era, however, still describe Erasmus’ contributions as invaluable.

7. While he is universally known in the rugby community as ‘Rassie’, his first name is Johan. Foreigners often struggle to pronounce his nickname correctly. Lions coach Warren Gatland recently referred to the South African director of rugby as ‘Razzie’ (as opposed to ‘Russ-ie’).

Erasmus was called ‘DJ Rassie’ during his early days at the Cheetahs. Ever the innovator, Erasmus saw the value in watching the game from the roof of the Free State Stadium and communicating to players and management via a system of coloured paddles and flashing lights.

8. Erasmus was born on 5 November 1972 in Despatch, a small town in the Eastern Cape. He has been married to Nicolene for more than 20 years. The couple have three daughters, including two teenage twins.

9. Last year, Erasmus revealed that he had been diagnosed with microscopic polyangiitis with granulomatosis in 2019, and that he had received treatment throughout the World Cup campaign. Few people, including many of the Bok players, knew about his illness, as he went out of his way to keep the matter private.

In 2020, Erasmus and his family contracted Covid-19. At one stage, he and his wife were gravely ill. Fortunately, Erasmus and his family made a complete recovery.

10. Erasmus moved to Ireland to take up a post at Munster in 2016. The team progressed to the final of the Pro12. While they were ultimately outplayed by an excellent Scarlets side, Erasmus was named Pro12 Coach of the Year.

A passionate South African, Erasmus moved back to his home country with the intent of pulling the struggling Springboks out of the mire. The Boks bounced back to claim their first win on New Zealand soil in nine years, and to regain the global rugby community’s respect.

After the Boks’ World Cup success in Japan, Erasmus was honoured with the World Rugby Coach of the Year Award.

Back in South Africa, as the nation celebrated the Boks’ triumph, he was hailed as a miracle man, a coach who had united a team of different races and cultures to claim the sport’s greatest prize.

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