Thursday, December 15, 2005

RUGBY365's CHAT with Rassie

This story was first published on the web by Rugby365 and is availible in print by buying RugbyNews/Nuus from your local magazine shop.


We have 6 beers with Rassie Erasmus
Tuesday December 13 2005
Cheetahs coach Rassie Erasmus managed to achieve in one season what most provincial coaches can only dream of their whole career ... to win the Currie Cup. Chris Schoeman, editor of Rugby News/Rugby Nuus magazines spoke to him about his career as player and coach. He gives his views on 2005 and what to expect in 2006.

Rugby365 publish the interview with kind permission of the magazines. You can visit their websites at Rugby News and Rugby Nuus for more info. (The magazines are also available at major new agencies [CNA, PNA, etc.] and supermarkets.)

Question: You're from the Eastern Cape; tell us about your life before you came to Bloemfontein.
Answer: Yes, those were the good days. I grew up in Despatch when the town was a force to be reckoned with in club rugby. I was only a lightie when I became ball boy at the town's rugby field. I regularly went to watch when the big guys were practicing. It is ironic that Pote Human, who is the present Blue Bulls forwards coach, lived next to us! Top players like Danie Gerber, Willie Meyer, Adri Geldenhuys and Frans Erasmus all played for the town club. In my high school days I often worked as barman at the rugby club where I could be in closer contact with my heroes. I myself didn't play too badly and in matric in 1990 I played for the EP Craven Week team. Os (du Randt) played for NEC and the SA Schools the same year. After that I came to Bloem for my military training and played for Free State U20s. I enjoyed Bloem so much that I decided to stay there and here I still am today!

Q: Tell us about your Free State days.
A: I played my first match for Free State in 1994 and in the end played more than 120 matches for them. I also played for Lions for two years, but I was very happy to come back to the Free State. My first highlight with them was the Currie Cup Final in 1997, but we lost by two points. Then of course there was last year's final which we also lost, but fortunately this year I was on the winning side, although this time as coach and not as a player.

Q: In 2000 you were the Super 12 Player of the Series and in 2001 the South African Player of the Series. What other highlights were there as player?
A: My first test against the British and Irish Lions at Ellis Park [1997]; thereafter our Tri-Nations title in 1998 and the 17 subsequent test victories with Nick Mallett as coach. Then of course the World Cup quarter-final against England in Paris in 1999 when we destroyed them.

Q: Which coaches stood out for you?
A: If it is just about how the game should be played, Nick Mallett was the man. André Markgraaff taught me a lot about discipline and passion and commitment.Then Oom Peet [Kleynhans], I've learnt a lot from him about one's approach to the game. He has made a huge contribution to the game in the Free State.

Q: Did you ever think during your playing days that you would one day be a provincial coach?
A: I always wanted to remain part of the game after hanging up my boots, but never thought it would happen so soon. It was only after meeting Oom Peet that I had the hope to become coach. It was a special experience to see how he thinks about the game and how he does things.

Q: What were your aims at the beginning of 2005?
A: We had been in the final the previous year and we felt at least we should go through to the final again. We've been there and we could do it again, maybe this time it would depend on the bounce of the ball, and that is exactly what happened. The final could have gone either way.

Q: How did you approach the semi-final against WP and the final against the Blue Bulls?
A: Before every match you analyse your opponents, look at their weak points and concentrate on your strong points. The WP is not really so weak up front as people think and we had to play hard to beat them. To be honest, we didn't play very well in the semi-final, but we did enough to win the match. The main thing we told ourselves was to keep the ball away from the WP backline. You will be stupid not to do it. As far as the final is concerned, you know, people don't give the Blue Bulls enough credit for their achievements. You often hear they are predictable and if you keep them at bay up front, they are very ordinary. But why can't anybody do it? Heyneke Meyer is a very shrewd coach and even in the final he came up with one or two things that were new to us. The final could have gone either way. But I have to say that it had been the first time in four years that we had been able to match the Blue Bulls for the whole 80 minutes. So we stayed in the game and in the end the ball bounced right for us.

Q: What was the atmosphere like in the dressing room before the final at Loftus?
A: I think the fact that we had been in the final the previous year and had to sit in the same dressing room at the same stadium as in 2004, made most guys somewhat calmer. But the fact remains that you still have to go onto the field and cope with everything. So there is still the quiet tension before the game. You have your experienced guys like Os, Naka and Ollie who can probably handle this better than the younger players. But the young guys like Meyer Bosman and Alwyn Hollenbach who were playing in their first final were very nervous.

Q: What can we expect from the Cheetahs in next year's Super 14?
A: Look, we managed to win the Currie Cup and the Free State players have a lot of confidence and that is good. But at the same time everybody realise that the Super 14 is a totally new competition, something different from the Currie Cup we had been used to. It has new demands, new challenges and requires new adjustments. One can't just say for instance we want to win seven matches. What will happen for instance if after seven matches you have won five and six remain? You can't say we've won five, now we only need to win two more. You have to look at every match as it comes and plan from match to match. We have already done bleep tests and power training, etc. with a big group of approximately 50 from the Free State, Griquas and Griffons and in January we will select the final group of 28. As I have said before, the Super 14 is a new challenge but we look forward to it.

Q: Some people say you shouldn't be 'pals' with the players. How do you see it?
A: I have learnt from coaches like Nick Mallett, Oom Peet and even André Markgraaff that you have to be able to relax with the players at the right time but in such a way that they won't lose their respect for you. You have to remember, I have just turned 33, how can I now all of a sudden pretend to be 40? Last year I was still playing with many of my players, winning, losing and crying together, how can I now put myself on a pedestal? I believe you have to remain the same person. When it comes to practice and game analysis and this type of thing, then you're the boss. Away from the field you have to enjoy yourself with the guys, but when it comes to rugby, it is all black and white.

Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learnt from rugby, on and off the field?
A: You know, one experiences that there are a lot of people out there who want to see that you are not successful. It is a trait of our people, they want to deny you winning and being the Currie Cup Champions. But then there are lots of people who will always support you. One should never allow the negativity of others to undermine your confidence. There will always be those who support you and they are they ones you should be able to trust.

Q: Who, in your opinion, has been the greatest player in your time and also before your time?
A: Some people won't agree with me, but when I played there was no player like of Jonah Lomu. It was often said that he couldn't turn around quick enough for chips and that sort of thing, but look at the tries he scored and the matches he had won almost all by himself. Many had lots of negative things to say about him, but I tell you, the guys were scared of him. Before my days there had been only one, Danie Gerber. We grew up in the same town and I often saw him playing for the town's team, for EP and the Springboks and he was just a phenomenal player. What impressed me just as much as his play, was his commitment. He had all the talent in the world and things came very naturally for him, but he never rested on his laurels. I often saw him jogging early in the morning and practicing on his own and I always realised he never thought he was too good for that. He was a great example to everybody.

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