Springbok Rugby Chaos

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 08: Adriaan Strauss (captain) of South Africa during the The Rugby Championship match between South Africa and New Zealand at Growthpoint Kings Park on October 08, 2016 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Springbok Rugby Chaos

The Springbok Rugby chaos facing the South African game is alarming and has raised questions from all quarters, as well as drawing a large degree of criticism.

We take a look at a few of the most important points.

The Transformation Agenda

We need to slay this dragon immediately. Transformation is not the ill that has destroyed the mighty aura of Springbok rugby. Yes, there may be challenges in getting the balance of the team right when having to achieve the targets that the South African Rugby Union (SARU) accepted. These targets were agreed to by the President’s Council and were regarded as achievable. Whether someone accepts the reality of these targets or not is beside the point. Poor performances are not limited to players of any particular racial group. The problem is a lot bigger than just a freedom of selection issue.

The Head Coach

Allister Coetzee was always on a hiding to nothing. He was appointed as Head Coach a mere six weeks before his first Test match, the detail of which we have covered previously. If he had walked into an environment that existed of a team of established coaches with years of experience, he could have pulled it off. The reality though is that he has support staff that are very inexperienced in terms of provincial rugby, let alone at Test level.

Compare this to a sample of what the likes of Steve Hansen and Michael Cheika have at their disposal:

Steve Hansen:

Wayne Smith – Two Super Rugby titles as Head Coach of the Crusaders, former All Blacks coach.

Ian Foster – Head Coach of the Chiefs for 7 years and regarded as the next All Blacks coach

Mike Cron – Who has 34 years worth of experience as a scrum and forwards coach

Michael Cheika:

Nathan Grey – 35 Tests as a player. Defence coach of the Waratahs in their Super Rugby winning year.

Stephen Larkham – 102 Tests as a player. The Head Coach of the Brumbies since 2014.

Mario Ledesma – 84 Tests for Argentina, who is looking after their set piece.

Mick Byrne – Spent 11 years previously as the All Blacks skills coach.

Succession Planning:

Succession Planning has never been a priority for the Springbok Head Coach position and that is one of the core issues for the Springboks. Coetzee was recalled from Japan. He is a former Assistant Coach under Jake White, but was not used in the Heyneke Meyer era. Pieter de Villiers was appointed after success at national age group level, but before his appointment as Springbok coach was not part of the senior structures.

Jake White followed the same path as De Villiers. He enjoyed success at age group level, winning the then Under 21 World Cup in 2002. He did have prior experience in the Springbok setup as a video analyst, but not as one of the senior members of the coaching setup.

This smacks of reactive as opposed to proactive planning, with no consideration to the importance of succession.

Coaching Support

In previous years, Springbok coaches had the support of a team of coaches in the employ of SARU to turn to for assistance. Rassie Erasmus made a presentation to SARU to apply for the vacant Springbok coach position. After having his application rejected, Erasmus resigned and took up the position of Head Coach at Irish club Munster. He took defensive guru Jacques Nienaber along with him – coincidentally one of the worst performing elements of the Springbok game at the moment.

Chean Roux, who was recently appointed as the Springbok defence coach on a short-term assignment, has no experience in a similar position. His previous employment was in the SARU Mobi-Unit as a consultant focussing on refereeing and technical aspects and as a Head Coach of the Maties in the Varsity Cup.

SARU have called for a coaching “Indaba”, to be held from 19 to 21 October. It remains to be seen how effective this meeting will be and how many of the franchise Presidents and Head Coaches fully buy into the concept and share their ideas openly.

What is the game plan?

The South African rugby public has eyed the success of the All Blacks with envy and has generally called for the Springboks to take a dive into the deep end and follow suit. This is the one valid point that Allister Coetzee has made – The high-paced, high intensity game is not necessarily suitable for South African players. Of the local Super Rugby teams only one out of six, the Emirates Lions, actually plays that type of game. The majority of South African players simply do not have the aerobic conditioning to play that tempo of game and would have to eased into that style of play. Having already nailed his colours to the mast on this this issue, Coetzee then selected four Lions players in his backline for the bulk of the Rugby Championship campaign. This was sometimes dictated by circumstance, but flies in the face of his opinion that the Lions game plan was unsuited to South African players at Test level.

The big issue here is that there is no single game plan or style of play that is applied across all rugby in the country. Each national team, from the South African Schools team to the senior Springbok team, is coached to play the style preferred by whoever the Head Coach is at the time. The same could be said of each provincial union, with each Head Coach preparing his team to play according to his preferred pattern of play.

The Value of the Rand

This is one of the more obvious problems the Springboks as well a Super Rugby franchises are facing. The annual player drain to Europe and Japan has depleted the country of its rugby stock, both in terms of top level quality as well as reserve strength. We cannot blame the players for this. Who could pass up the opportunity to double their earnings if they had the opportunity to do so? The call of currency is certainly louder than the call of the green and gold jersey.

There is a warning to both New Zealand and Australia in the decline in the quality of the South African game, as well as the decline in interest by the South African public. The cash generated out of the paying South African rugby viewing public is the dominant factor in the SANZAAR alliance. The more South African rugby struggles, the lower the income they earn out of Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship.

The Anachronism that is SARU

One just needs to take a look at the structure of SARU and the undue influence that members of the Presidents Council can have to realise that it is not suited to the purpose. If we cast our jealous eye over to New Zealand again, we note how inherently different their structure is. Players are centrally contracted and the NZRU have a direct influence on the style of play and the skills they want to see developed. Everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Compare this to the South African model, where players are contracted to their provincial unions and SARU have no influence over appointment of coaches or the style of play to be coached. Everyone is generally pulling in different directions.

The SARU Presidents Council is comprised of the Presidents of the fourteen provincial unions. There is a conflict of interest right there. If an issue was to put to a vote that was best for South African Rugby but was to the detriment of the provincial unions, there is no guarantee that the correct rugby decision would be made. As Presidents of their respective Unions, the Council will always be looking after their own interests first.

Quite frankly the Presidents Council belongs in the 1980’s and in the amateur era, not in a modern and professional era where sound business decisions should be made to the benefit of the greater rugby community.

We can only wait and hope that SARU sees the light, sooner rather than later. If the entire structure of the game is not changed as a matter of urgency, the decline in quality of South African rugby is guaranteed. The short answer is to appoint professional administrators to carry out a professional task, with the directive to protect the South African game and not the Unions’ own interests.

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