Sharks man has a vi­sion

Venter aims to trans­form off-field cul­ture, en­vi­ron­ment to boost play­ers

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

IF THEIR new boss Bren­dan Venter gets it right, the Sharks play­ers who gather to­day for a train­ing camp at the start of the build-up to the new Cur­rie Cup sea­son can ready them­selves for a time in their lives when they will un­dergo mas­sive per­sonal growth.

Many Sharks fans are un­der­stand­ably, and prob­a­bly rightly, dis­ap­pointed and frus­trated at the way the long-serv­ing John Plumtree was dis­missed. It wasn’t han­dled well and af­ter what he had done for the union Plumtree cer­tainly de­served to be treated bet­ter than he was.

But in speak­ing to the Sharks’ new di­rec­tor of rugby this week, it did be­come much clearer what the union’s newly ap­pointed chief ex­ec­u­tive John Smit is look­ing for in mak­ing the switch.

It may be over-sim­pli­fy­ing it, but the for­mer Spring­bok cen­tre ap­pears to subscribe to a sim­i­lar new age coach­ing phi­los­o­phy to that of re­cently re­tired Proteas cricket coach Gary Kirsten and his right­hand man Paddy Up­ton.

That pair at­trib­uted their suc­cess with In­dia to the en­vi­ron­ment they had helped cre­ate through their at­ten­tion to the peo­ple who made up the team, and from the first day they made it clear that they were go­ing to do the same thing with the South Africans.

As the Proteas as­cended to the No 1 rank­ing in Test cricket dur­ing the time of their in­volve­ment, their mis­sion can be taken to have been suc­cess­ful.

Venter has been hired by Smit on the ba­sis of what he did to trans­form the cul­ture and en­vi­ron­ment at English club Sara­cens, where the Spring­bok World Cup-win­ning cap­tain com­pleted his play­ing ca­reer, and where he says he learned more in two years than in 10 years in South Africa.

In an in­ter­view with Venter this week, the con­ver­sa­tion sel­dom fo­cused on on­field rugby is­sues, and in­stead cen­tred on the qual­i­ties of peo­ple and the need for play­ers to be de­fined by more than just what they do on the field in or­der to be suc­cess­ful. When it comes to the rugby stuff, he doesn’t think there’s much wrong with the Sharks, or for that mat­ter much to fault his pre­de­ces­sor for.

“I think the Sharks re­cruit­ment has been done re­ally well in the past. And it is im­por­tant to stress that John Plumtree never did any­thing wrong. He was suc­cess­ful as a coach. It’s just that John (Smit) is look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing that goes be­yond just rugby,” said Venter.

“It’s not just about tro­phies, al­though those are ob­vi­ously im­por­tant, and they will come if you cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that is spe­cial.

“I’ve been through the stats for this past Su­per Rugby sea­son and there is noth­ing that re­ally jumps out at you. The Sharks con­ceded the third least tries in the com­pe­ti­tion, and also scored the third most tries.

“My pri­mary fo­cus is to change the cul­ture and try and bring that spe­cial­ness to the Sharks that John (Smit) is look­ing for.”

Venter shares his time be­tween coach­ing and his life as a med­i­cal doc­tor. While he is much sought af­ter for his coach­ing ex­per­tise, he says that he won’t al­low the win­ning or los­ing of rugby matches to define him.

“I con­sider my­self to be some­one that tries to be a good hus­band and fa­ther, and a good doc­tor. I would like to be suc­cess­ful as a coach but I don’t define my­self by my achieve­ments as a rugby player or coach,” he said.

“For me it is all about cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple can ex­press them­selves in and per­form in. Rugby is es­sen­tially a game and while we try and win ev­ery time we play, ev­ery­thing has to be put in per­spec­tive. The ob­jec­tive must al­ways be to de­velop peo­ple as hu­man be­ings as rugby will al­ways just stay a game.

“A lot re­volves around in­tegrity. You should never sac­ri­fice your in­tegrity in or­der to win a game, and I ap­ply that same phi­los­o­phy to the team. We will try in­cred­i­bly hard, but as Dr Danie Craven once said, the way we live will be the way we play, and with that the way we play will end up be­ing the way we live.

“My vi­sion for the Sharks is that apart from play­ing rugby we will de­velop our off-field skills and live suc­cess­ful lives.”

Venter has been burned in the past when do­ing in­ter­views, so he won’t be seek­ing the spot­light at the Sharks, with Smit and new coach Brad McLeod-Hen­der­son be­ing the front men while he works in the back­ground.

“I am go­ing to be play­ing a back­ground role help­ing bring the coaches through and try­ing to en­sure that the right cul­ture is cre­ated to en­able the team to thrive.”

If you’re think­ing af­ter read­ing those words that Venter as­sesses char­ac­ter and per­son­al­ity along with play­ing abil­ity when do­ing his re­cruit­ment, you would be cor­rect.

And Venter says he was quickly bought in by Smit’s de­sire to re­cre­ate the at­mos­phere that drove the Sharks’ suc­cess when he was a young player and the team was be­ing led by Gary Te­ich­mann.

“The guys who played for the Sharks in that era were a spe­cial bunch of peo­ple. They were more than just team­mates on the rugby field who had a pro­fes­sional job to do.

“They were friends off it too. Guys like Henry Honi­ball, Dick Muir, Mark An­drews, Adrian Garvey and Te­ich­mann were switched on when they were on the field, but they had a great time off it too. John wants us to be more than just a team, and I can re­late to what he wants.”

Venter has filled the po­si­tion of the tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor at Sara­cens for the past few years while also run­ning his med­i­cal prac­tice in the Strand – and he will con­tinue to do so.

“Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances have made just about any­thing pos­si­ble. Each Sara­cens player has an Ipad with an app on it, and I am able to mon­i­tor train­ing ses­sions and coach­ing meet­ings on a daily ba­sis from South Africa with­out it be­ing any prob­lem.

“I watch ev­ery game and an­a­lyse what we do and fly to the UK once ev­ery month to talk to the coaches.

“I will con­tinue to work with Sara­cens, but I will be very hands-on at the Sharks dur­ing the Cur­rie Cup. It’s go­ing to be re­ally hec­tic and busy for me.

“I am go­ing to have to wake up at 4am ev­ery Mon­day and fly to Dur­ban. I will spend Mon­day and Tues­day in Dur­ban, at­tend­ing all the Sharks meet­ings and train­ing ses­sions. Wed­nes­day is the day off at the Sharks, so I will fly back to Cape Town on the Tues­day night and put in a full day of work at my med­i­cal prac­tice. Then it will be back to Dur­ban on the Thurs­day for the cap­tain’s prac­tice.

“I will spend Fri­day at the med­i­cal prac­tice be­fore fly­ing to where the Sharks are due to play ei­ther on the Fri­day night or the Satur­day, de­pend­ing on when the game is.”

In terms of the on­field changes that can be an­tic­i­pated from the Sharks in the com­ing months, Venter says the big­gest de­par­ture from the past will be a far greater em­pha­sis on ro­ta­tion in se­lec­tion.

“There won’t be a top team of 15 as such. It is my be­lief that rugby teams win matches, rugby squads win cham­pi­onships.

“It will be our abil­ity as a group that will de­ter­mine whether we are suc­cess­ful, not our strength as in­di­vid­u­als.

“I would rather see the work-load di­vided than have the same team play 40 games in a row.”


LOOK­ING AHEAD: Bren­dan Venter be­lieves cre­at­ing the right off-field at­mos­phere can help trans­form the Sharks into a win­ning team again.

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