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Freshening up coaching brains trust by Rassie Erasmus is good news for Springboks

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South Africa’s head coach Rassie Erasmus looks on ahead of a training session at the Mayol Stadium in Toulon, southern France, on September 28, 2023, during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup. Picture: CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU, AFP

The report that Rassie Erasmus is to replace one Irishman with another in his Springbok coaching staff and bring in a clever Kiwi is a positive development because it ensures freshness of ideas.

The indications are that Felix Jones is to be replaced by Jerry Flannery and he will have the defence portfolio, while former All Black flyhalf Tony Brown will be in charge of growing the backline attack.

Flannery, a former Six Nations-winning hooker with Ireland, is currently coaching defence at English club Harlequins but he used to coach the forwards at Munster and this is where he got to know Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, who coached the Irish province in 2016 and 2017.

Rassie is massive on team culture and he is bringing Flannery in because he rates his coaching but also because they get on. The feeling is mutual and this is what Flannery had to say about Erasmus in 2017: “Rassie creates an environment where hard work and honesty are rewarded. It genuinely is rewarded.

“When you look at the way teams have been selected, it’s not always the big names that get selected.

It’s the guys who rock up, who train the hardest, who put Munster and the team before themselves. He’s been a huge asset to Munster this season.”

The 45-year-old Flannery won 41 caps for Ireland as a fiery hooker and he was picked for the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa but did not play a Test.

But it is the recruitment of Brown that could prove to be a Rassie master stroke. As a flyhalf with nearly 200 games for the Highlanders, the diminutive Brown was a quick-witted player who often outfoxed defences with sleight of hand as opposed to brute force.

He would have played more than 19 Tests for the All Blacks had he not been in the shadow of the great Andrew Merhtens.

In 2006, Sharks coach Dick Muir shrewdly pulled in Brown to play a season in Durban. He was coming to the end of his career and a host of young Sharks players — JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Brad Barritt, Butch James and Ruan Pienaar — raved about how much they learnt from Brown.

And that Sharks team would come within a minute or two of beating the Bulls in the Super 14 title the next year.

Brown has had a lengthy coaching tenure at the Highlanders and he would bring new ideas from Super Rugby to the Springbok set-up. The growth of the attack is the priority for the Boks as they look to evolve from their World Cup triumphs and take a better-balanced game to the 2027 tournament in Australia.

At international level, Brown has been an assistant coach to Jamie Joseph with Japan, including the last two World Cups.

Brown and Joseph have broken ties with Japan and the former has said he wants a new gig at international level. An assistant coach position with the back-to-back world champions is certainly a promotion and Brown’s role with the Boks would add some nice spice to the All Blacks’ two-match visit to South Africa later this year.

Mike Greenaway

IOL Sport

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