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'Bumps along the way' as Rassie opens up on SA Rugby's 'strides'

SPOTLIGHT: SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus said he was pleased with the strides made by the ‘Rugby Department’ in the last few years.

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Some of the 2022 highlights that SA Rugby wanted to focus on included the BlitzBoks winning the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in England; the Junior Springboks being crowned the Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series Champions in Italy, the SA Under-18 team claiming the U18 International Series title on home soil; and the Springbok Women’s Sevens team clinching the Rugby Africa Women’s Sevens Cup in Tunisia.

On the senior national XVs teams’ side, 19 professional women were contracted for the first time, and the Springbok Women improved their world ranking to 11th place at the end of last year, while the Springboks won eight of their 13 Test matches last season and capped 10 new players.

The department also delivered on its transformation objectives, with its goals for all teams and management participating in international competitions in 2022 being met, while Bafana Nhleko and Sandile Ngcobo were appointed as head coaches of the Junior Springboks and BlitzBoks respectively in the last two years.

Laurian Johannes-Haupt, meanwhile, became the first female senior national team assistant coach after being drafted into that role for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year and will again assist interim Springbok Women’s coach Louis Koen for their forthcoming tour against Canada and Spain.

Another highlight mentioned was the hosting of six masterclasses for 18 coaches as part of the SA Rugby Elite Coaches Project – in conjunction with the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture – of which Johannes-Haupt was one of the participants.

“It has been pleasing to see the steady strides made by our Rugby Department in the last few seasons, and we are committed to building on this as the year progresses,” said Erasmus.

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“There are several highlights which we are extremely proud of, especially given the performances of most of our national teams last season, and although there may be bumps along the way, we are generally on a good trajectory in terms of our teams, refereeing and coaching structures.

“In addition to this we are currently in the final week of our first Springbok camp for the year, which is the first time we have had such a luxury in a Rugby World Cup year.

“The Springbok Women played nine Tests last year which included an away victory over Japan, while they’ve also had four training camps so far this year and are about to embark on their first tour of the new season.

“Our Springbok Women’s Sevens programme is also back on track. The team qualified for Commonwealth Games, featured in four tournaments including the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series, which will again be hosted in April this year in Stellenbosch. They are also together on a full-time basis once again for the next few months.

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“The Junior Springboks had a fantastic year last year under the leadership of Bafana, and they will soon get their preparations underway for the 2023 edition of the World Rugby U20 Championship which will be hosted in the Western Cape in June and July.

“The BlitzBoks finished second in the World Series last season, and they have four World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments left this season to improve their current ranking, while our Elite Player Development system is functioning well, with 19 graduates having represented the Springboks in 2022, and eight of them making their Bok debuts last season.”

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Erasmus also commended SA Rugby’s refereeing and coaching development structures: “Our referee system is functioning well, and this is evident in the fact that we have four referees on the United Rugby Championship panel and another two in the competition as development referees, we had a female Referee of the Year in Aimee-Barrett Theron, who held the whistle in the Rugby World Cup semifinal last year, while we also rolled out a Referees Coaching Blueprint to 14 referee societies.

“From a coaching perspective, Laurian became a member of the Springbok Women’s coaching team on an interim basis, we implemented a programme to fast-track the development of elite black coaches to equip them for the demands at the top level of the game, and we saw Mzwandile Stick [Springbok assistant coach] lead the South African ‘A’ team last year.

“Over and above this, our medical and technical departments are also running smoothly, which are obviously vital cogs in our performances on the field and in the safety of the game in general.”

Looking ahead at the 2023 season, Erasmus said: “Rugby is a constantly changing environment and we have to keep adapting and being innovative in the way our respective departments operate, and it is imperative that we build on our transformation objectives at the same time.

“This is an exciting season for us with the Springboks building towards the Rugby World Cup in France, as well as South Africa hosting the Challenger Series and the World Rugby Under-20 Championship, while our teams and referees will be in action in a number of other exciting tournaments worldwide.

“Hopefully, we can build on this exciting list of achievements this year.”

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