TOKYO, 1 Nov - Rassie Erasmus was born to coach.
Even when he was a player, team-mates could see he was a natural.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Erasmus would often be spotted, laptop in hand, analysing matches he had played in. Springboks, Cheetahs or Cats Super Rugby teams. The loose forward always looking for something to give his team the edge.
Fast forward to 2019, and, after an excellent playing career, Erasmus has reached the pinnacle of his coaching tenure, guiding the Boks to a Rugby World Cup final, against England on Saturday.
The @Springboks side to contest the #RWCFinal against England on Saturday in Yokohama!— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 31, 2019
🏟 International Stadium Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama City
📆Saturday, 2 November
⏲ 18:00hrs (JPN Local time)
Find out where to watch: https://t.co/z0BgdPYBjN pic.twitter.com/xu0Q1jL8q9
Few know him better than Naka Drotske, former Springboks hooker and a replacement in the RWC 1995 triumph over the All Blacks in Johannesburg.
Drotske, who shared a student house with Erasmus at the University of the Free State, said his pal was always a fierce competitor.
"That is what made him such a good rugby player and coach," Drotske said, from Bloemfontein.
"When we played together at the Cats from 1997 he was always the guy who analysed the game thoroughly and came up with proposals and solutions to technical situations."
Erasmus played 36 tests for the Springboks, including the 1999 RWC quarter-final against England when Jannie de Beer's world-record five drop goals, below, sealed the 44-21 win.
After retiring aged 31 in 2003 - a niggling foot injury - Erasmus moved into coaching. The very next year, his Cheetahs team won the Currie Cup, beating a Bulls team chock-full of Springboks.
Drotske, then Cheetahs captain, feels that set the tone for Erasmus's second rugby career, when he was ever willing to look outside the box. Sitting on top of the stand at Free State Stadium, the coach would apparently display disco lights to indicate which attacking move the players should use.
Ollie le Roux, another friend and former Cheetahs and Springboks team-mate, spoke about Erasmus's immense passion for the game, though noted he was not without his foibles.
“He could never bench-press much, he has always battled to get big chest muscles," said former front-row Le Roux, also speaking from Bloemfontein. "He also doesn't have very big calves. He did go to the gym but what was amazing about him is that he would always make a joke about it.
"He has the ability to get teams and players to almost play above their capacity, because he brings so much unity. The players trust him so much because he always has a plan.
"He has this knack to coach a team to a point where the players know exactly what he wants, to the point that they can almost coach themselves."
Five coaches have been nominated for the World Rugby Coach of the Year 2019 award.— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) October 31, 2019
Who do you think should win?
The winner will be announced on 3 November at the #WorldRugbyAwards in Tokyo pic.twitter.com/IELc6Po8lY
This coaching journey next took Erasmus to the Stormers in Cape Town in 2007, where he also helped prepare a group of Springboks being rested for what would be a triumphant World Cup under Jake White.
Later, as senior professional coach at the club, he helped the Stormers reach the 2010 Super Rugby final, which they lost to the Bulls.
A technical adviser to Springboks coach Peter de Villiers at RWC 2011, where South Africa reached the quarter-finals, Erasmus made a permanent move to the South African Rugby Union in 2012 as high performance general manager in charge of strategy and planning for all national teams except the Boks.
But it was an office job, so when the opportunity arose to join Munster as a director of rugby in 2016, Erasmus pounced, taking the Irish province to the European Cup semi-finals and to the final of the PRO12.
Named PRO12 Coach of the Season for 2016-17, he has said his time in Ireland matured him as a coach. But it also made him appreciate the raw talent back home in South Africa, prompting his return late in 2017 to become director of rugby at the national union.
And after Allister Coetzee was fired as Boks coach in early 2018, Erasmus became head coach, although he has remained director of rugby.
He had a 50 per cent win record in 2018, but South Africa's 36-34 victory over the All Blacks in Wellington generated a belief they could be World Cup contenders; 2019 has been even better, with just one defeat - to New Zealand in the pool stages last month after they also drew 16-16 in July - in 11 tests. The Boks, pictured below before the semi-final victory over Wales, now stand on the brink of glory.
Erasmus confirmed on Thursday he will relinquish the job as Boks head coach to concentrate on his director role. He hopes, of course, to finish on a high.
"It's an emotional one in the sense that I didn't think 25 test matches will go that quickly.
"It's sad that it is only three days and then it is all over. But me being involved again, gives me such hope for what rugby can do for South Africa.
"I was one of those guys three years ago who said, 'Let’s just play, boys, let's just play'. But I've totally changed my mind. I believe if we play the right way, and with the passion, and the people can see it, it just helps people forget about their problems, and agree with things.
"Whatever happens on Saturday, we have to make sure we use this for the next four, five, six, seven years, that it doesn't get lost again, the positivity."