New Bok assistant coaches get the nod
Former Springbok assistant coach John McFarland has given his seal of approval to Allister Coetzee’s newest lieutenants, Franco Smith and Brendan Venter.
SA Rugby announced the appointment of the one half (Smith) of the pair on Monday, with Venter expected to be named soon.
Smith has built the Cheetahs from a team made up largely of Varsity Cup players into Currie Cup champions, while Venter is known for putting in place the foundations that have made English club side Saracens the monster it has become – his lesser claim to fame being devising Italy’s ingenious ruck strategy against England in the Six Nations last Sunday.
The former Bulls assistant coach, who is now doing the same job with the Japanese club side Kubota Spears, said while it will not be enough to turn the Boks’ fortunes around, hiring the former Springbok centres was a start.
“They [the Boks] obviously need people who have experience, have won trophies and have reputations. Assistant coaches must have experience and credibility. Brendan has a lot of influence with coaches he has mentored, and both have recently won Currie Cup titles,” said McFarland.
With the looming mid-year test series against France important as it will lead to a decision on whether Coetzee stays in his job or not, McFarland said Venter will come in handy.
McFarland said he also expected Venter’s presence to be helpful to Coetzee as they who coordinated the recent rugby indabas – the Bok coach called for them and the 1995 World Cup winner facilitated them.
The most important thing about the appointments, McFarland said, was the strength they were bringing to their roles: “What is really good for Allister is that both are used to being head coaches, and the real nitty-gritty coaching is done by the assistant coaches.
“They are the ones who do one on ones with the players, and the head coach manages them and maps out the team’s philosophy. Allister is gaining experience and credibility, and obviously strong characters because they are former head coaches.”
Regarding the devolution of roles, which led to the kind of finger-pointing that left previous assistant coaches Chean Roux and Mzwandile Stick in the lurch, McFarland said it was important that there was clarity even though it was natural that there would be constant overlaps.
“In my time, I was in charge of defence and the kick chase,” he said. “I worked closely with [Bok line-out coach] Johann [van Graan] on restarts and how to get out of our own half. Sometimes I would work with the back line coach, who would replicate our opponents’ moves against us.
“There is always a crossing over of the pathways, but it is important to have clear areas of responsibility – and people have to take advice.”
After a year in which the Boks won an unprecedented four of 12 games, McFarland said he had been encouraged by the little he had seen of the country’s Super Rugby sides.
“There is a huge difference – our players are in really good shape,” he said. “I have been to the Stormers and the Bulls, and some of the players look to be in the best shape of their lives. What struck me is how lean they are looking.
“You can see there is a definite shift in mindset – the players have embraced playing differently and it has probably come from the indabas.”
McFarland said he would like to see SA Rugby appoint a director of coaching to nurture young coaches: “I really feel we need someone to mentor these guys. If you look at England, they have a guy who mentors all their young coaches.”