The ogres be­hind De Vil­liers and pre­vi­ous coaches

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

PETER DE VIL­LIERS has taken a lot of flak from the crit­ics, much of it jus­ti­fied, but his an­swer to a ques­tion at the post­match press con­fer­ence at Twick­en­ham last week put proper per­spec­tive on where the blame for any­thing that has gone wrong dur­ing his ten­ure as Spring­bok coach should re­ally lie.

“I don’t know, I don’t care about that, it is not in my hands, I did not ap­point my­self,” said De Vil­liers when asked if the 21-11 win over Eng­land would be enough to keep him in his po­si­tion.

If that is re­ally De Vil­liers’ at­ti­tude it is the right one. And if he went on to ar­gue that most of his pre­de­ces­sors in the Bok coach­ing po­si­tion were not the ogres they were some­times made out to be, he would also be spot on.

The real ogres, and the peo­ple who should take the blame for South African rugby’s fail­ure post-iso­la­tion to dom­i­nate the world to the ex­tent they did be­fore, are the ad­min­is­tra­tors who have re­peat­edly made coach­ing ap­point­ments that de­fied com­mon sense and which on oc­ca­sion have even robbed the Spring­boks of mo­men­tum.

And no, that is not just di­rected at Ore­gan Hoskins, the SA Rugby Union pres­i­dent, be­cause it’s a prob­lems that’s ex­isted for most of the last 18 years.

Hoskins claimed that he did not even know about the bizarre idea – de­nied by the South African Rugby Union but there is sel­dom smoke with­out fire – to ap­point a tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee to which De Vil­liers would be an­swer­able.

If the names men­tioned were peo­ple cur­rently in coach­ing the idea might even be pass­able. There can’t be any deny­ing that De Vil­liers does need help. But, and this said with all due re­spect to Harry Viljoen, Carel du Plessis and Ru­dolf Straeuli, who prob­a­bly didn’t ask to be the sub­ject of me­dia spec­u­la­tion, the names men­tioned, other than Rassie Eras­mus and Heyneke Meyer, were out­ra­geous.

Two of those coaches, Du Plessis and Viljoen, can be classed as in­tel­li­gent rugby brains who were pos­si­bly un­done be­cause of the tim­ing of their ap­point­ment, rather than their abil­ity to do the job.

Viljoen was a dy­namic, for­ward think­ing coach who steered Transvaal to re­spectabil­ity be­fore guid­ing Wester n Prov­ince to a drought-break­ing Cur­rie Cup win in 1997. Had he been ap­pointed to the Bok job in 1997, it might have been an in­spired move. He wasn’t – in­stead he came into the job at the end of 2000 – three years af­ter break­ing away from coach­ing.

Du Plessis was of course the Bok coach for most of 1997. Ev­ery­one re­mem­bers that be­cause it was the year the Boks lost to the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions. Du Plessis re­ceived crit­i­cism, but the crime re­ally be­longed to Louis Luyt’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, who ap­pointed him at a time where his only coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence had been a stint at the Uni­ver­sity of the Western Cape.

Straeuli, who fell prey to the syn­drome known as the Mad­ness of the Spring­bok Coach, which drove a per­fectly de­cent man to be­have in a lam­en­ta­ble way un­der the pres­sure which comes with the job, is at least cur­rently coach­ing. He took charge of train­ing the Sharks un­der-21 team this past sea­son.

Plac­ing those names on a po­ten­tial Bok tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee would come across as a joke if it were not for the fact that there is plenty of prece­dent. For in­stance, in 2003, when Straeuli re­signed/was sacked, the new Saru pres­i­dent Brian van Rooyen drew up a list of four po­ten­tial re­place­ments that in­cluded An­dre Mark­graaff and Ch­ester Wil­liams.

Mark­graaff def­i­nitely wasn’t the worst Spring­bok coach in his­tory, but at the time he had not coached for three years. And Wil­liams’ coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at that stage of his ca­reer was limited to Sevens. Van Rooyen made it known he favoured Wil­liams as the head coach, with Mark­graaff serv­ing as as­sis­tant or in a tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sory ca­pac­ity.

The me­dia out­cry prompted Mark­graaff to with­draw his avail­abil­ity, and af­ter some pres­sure was ap­plied by for­mer Spring­bok cap­tain Morne du Plessis in his all too brief stint on the board of SA Rugby, Jake White was even­tu­ally in­cluded on the list and a proper test­ing process was in­tro­duced. Tech­ni­cally White was way su­pe­rior to other can­di­dates who did not boast enough coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and he got the job.

The same tests were held at the end of 2007, when a re­place­ment for White was be­ing sought. It is no se­cret that De Vil­liers came last in the tech­ni­cal tests, but was ap­pointed nonethe­less for rea­sons which, Hoskins in­ti­mated at a press con­fer­ence af­ter­wards, tran­scended rugby.

The fruit­less search for rugby coach­ing heavy­weights pre­pared to work with De Vil­liers be­tween the end of the Boks’ dis­as­trous Tri-Na­tions cam­paign and the be­gin­ning of the last tour was an ad­mis­sion on the part of Saru that they had made the wrong ap­point­ment. Their sub­se­quent at­tempts to usher in al­ter­na­tives that ap­pear less than suit­able are symp­to­matic of the lack of strong lead­er­ship of an or­gan­i­sa­tion that just doesn’t have the guts to make a big de­ci­sion.

Big de­ci­sions though have not al­ways been a prob­lem for the SA rugby ad­min­is­tra­tion, and in 2000 they jet­ti­soned a coach, Nick Mallett, for say­ing that he thought the price of Test tick­ets in South Africa was ex­or­bi­tant.

That though wasn’t the real rea­son Mallett was sacked, for his real crime was that he was out­spo­ken about what he saw as the bum­bling in­com­pe­tence of an ad­min­is­tra­tion he felt wasn’t qual­i­fied to make coach­ing ap­point­ments be­cause of lack of tech­ni­cal rugby knowl­edge.

A glance through the his­tory of Bok rugby since the end of iso­la­tion will sug­gest he was only stat­ing what should be self-ev­i­dent, though not even the late Dr Danie Craven, who was still run­ning SA rugby when iso­la­tion ended and was a clever rugby man who en­joyed guru sta­tus, was ex­empt from the malaise which has seen more bizarre ap­point­ments made in the last 18 years than log­i­cal ones.

It was Craven’s regime that ap­pointed the first post-iso­la­tion coach, John Wil­liams, who at the time, 1992, hadn’t coached since 1989, with the three-year in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod see­ing marked changes to the way the game was played as Bob Dwyer’s Wal­la­bies in­tro­duced the con­cept of di­rect rugby.


FU­TURE IM­PER­FECT: Bok coach Peter de Vil­liers seems set to be at the helm for the 2011 World Cup, but with SA Rugby, any­thing is pos­si­ble.

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