Siviwe Soyizwapi during the South African national men's sevens rugby team training session in Stellenbosch, November 28 2019. Picture: CARL FOURIE / GALLO IMAGES
Siviwe Soyizwapi during the South African national men's sevens rugby team training session in Stellenbosch, November 28 2019. Picture: CARL FOURIE / GALLO IMAGES

While cricket dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons last week, national director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was putting the finishing touches to the Springbok management team for next year and the Blitzbokke sent out a message of intent by winning the first leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series.

Why do I squeeze those disparate elements into one thought process? Because though they may seem unrelated, there is a need to assess the direction one sport appears to have taken and relate it to the path being followed by the other. Perhaps then we can better understand where cricket went wrong and what is needed to put it right.

First, let’s look at that win by the Blitzbokke. What was noticeable to anyone watching the Dubai tournament was how the sevens players referenced their 15-a-side counterparts and the extra motivation they now have to continue the momentum created by the Rugby World Cup triumph in Japan.

Which brings Erasmus’s role into focus. Light can be shed on the value of him occupying more than the narrowly defined role of Springbok head coach by looking back on the genesis of the current sevens success story.

It was Erasmus, in his previous role of GM: high performance teams for the SA Rugby Union, who first engaged Neil Powell as the national sevens coach. He did not have the power he has now, but it was Erasmus who decided not to re-engage Paul Treu when his contract came to an end.

Erasmus is not as hands-on when it comes to the coaching and managing of the sevens team as he was with the Boks in the past two years, and will continue to be after Jacques Nienaber is announced as the new Bok head coach. But he was heavily involved in contracting and deciding which players should take the sevens pathway to the big time.

It was his call that directed some of the Blitzbokke to the conventional code, and in some cases when he saw that they were not working out at fifteens he suggested they return to sevens.

The point is that the sevens Boks and the 15-man Boks function on a symbiotic relationship and someone has to oversee and direct it. That is Erasmus’s responsibility, as is the bigger task of ensuring that the country’s young talent is channelled through the national age-group teams and systems.

He knows the Springboks cannot expect to attain consistency in performance if the rest of the prongs that make up SA’s rugby machine are not functioning correctly.

So now let’s bring in former Proteas cricket captain Graeme Smith. The possibility is still on the table that he will take over as national director of cricket and it seems Cricket SA are determined to get him involved.

That suggests Smith is in a position of strength and can drive a hard bargain to put performance at the top of the agenda. This was the position Erasmus was in when SA Rugby head honchos Mark Alexander and Jurie Roux approached him with the view to appointing him as the first national director of rugby.

It would be naive to say that politics isn’t a huge part of the director’s job in both sports. In this country with its unique challenges, it has to be. But the rugby success story of the past 18 months has underlined the need for someone who has an intimate understanding of the game to be responsible for on-field performance.

Politics is important, but it cannot be the most important thing. My impression is that is where CSA got it wrong. There has to be a proper marriage between the two and good management of the balancing act.

That is something that Erasmus has done successfully. He is showing that the commitment to the establishment of a culture of excellence, is not held back by the equally important need to transform.

In fact, the sevens team has long been the shining example of what can be achieved, and Erasmus has been part of that success story.