Meyer must al­low the Jone­ses to help him out

Satur­day Com­ment

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

IF YOU jux­ta­pose some of the things that Ed­die Jones said at his first press con­fer­ence as Storm­ers coach with some of what was said by Heyneke Meyer as his Spring­bok squad was preparing to re­turn home from the World Cup, the con­trast is stark.

The one Meyer ut­ter­ance that sticks in the minds of many Bok fans is the one where he jus­ti­fied the over­re­liance on kick- and- chase and de­fence ori­en­ta­tion on the poor skills of South African play­ers. Meyer was in charge of the Boks for four years, so if there is a skills short­age, isn’t that his fault?

Jones might have some sym­pa­thy with Meyer. He agreed that his vi­sion of the Storm­ers em­brac­ing a new at­tack­ing game with his stamp on it would only come to fruition if the coaches lower down in the Western Prov­ince food chain bought into and un­der­stood what he is try­ing to do. Which is really what Meyer was try­ing to say the morn­ing af­ter the bronze play­off game in Lon­don.

One of the san­est and most proac­tive sug­ges­tions I have seen from any­one with a rugby brain that re­lates to the South African sit­u­a­tion came this week from Bren­dan Venter. The doc­tor and coach called for a pow-wow of all the top coaches and stake­hold­ers to dis­cuss the way for­ward and the game that the Boks should em­brace in or­der to make them suc­cess­ful. He ef­fec­tively ar­gued that change at the top would be mean­ing­less if there wasn’t change through all the other lev­els.

The man in charge of the na­tional team can­not op­er­ate in iso­la­tion and forge his own way with­out buy-in from the coaches of the teams that feed the elite squad, and it is the same with Jones at the Storm­ers. One year work­ing with the top Storm­ers play­ers won’t trans­late into suc­cess the fol­low­ing sea­son if those play­ers are in­jured and have to be re­placed by play­ers who haven’t had their skills de­vel­oped to the Jones re­quire­ments.

That, though, doesn’t ex­cuse Meyer and Jones ap­peared to con­firm in our in­ter­view on Thurs­day that the Bok coach is the prod­uct of a rugby cul­ture that, per­haps be­cause there is such a ready sup­ply of raw tal­ent com­ing through, doesn’t fo­cus enough on en­cour­ag­ing coaches to be what they are em­ployed to do. Which is to coach flaws out of play­ers so they make for bet­ter and more com­plete per­form­ers.

“In South Africa I think there has been a ten­dency to pi­geon-hole play­ers,” said Jones. “There is a steady sup­ply of tal­ent, so very quickly a coach will de­cide that a tal­ented player com­ing through has some flaw in his game and then he will be dis­pensed with in favour of the next player on the con­veyor-belt.

“They will say ‘he can’t pass’ or ‘he can’t kick’ so they’ll get rid of him in­stead of work­ing with him.

“In Aus­tralia it is dif­fer­ent, be­cause you just don’t have a big sup­ply line of play­ers, so you have to work with a player who is flawed and re­move those flaws through coach­ing. It is even more that way in Ja­pan. An ex­am­ple of a South African player who does have a weak­ness is Eben Etze­beth. He can’t pass. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be taught to pass.”

Jones suc­ceeded in Ja­pan and in Aus­tralia where many South African coaches have failed just be­cause in those coun­tries he didn’t have the lux­ury of a pipe­line of tal­ented school kids who could be tried and then quickly dis­carded if some­how they weren’t equipped with a com­plete set of skills (what­ever that might mean in the South African con­text).

Which brings up the de­featist at­ti­tude that lay be­neath Meyer’s la­ment that South African play­ers lack skills.

Again, as one who has been cry­ing out for for­eign in­flu­ence in the top lo­cal coach­ing struc­tures for as long as I can re­mem­ber lov­ing a Dur­ban curry, what Jones said brought both mu­sic and con­fir­ma­tion to th­ese ears.

“No one is nat­u­rally skilful. Ev­ery­one has to be coached or taught and there is no rea­son why South African play­ers can’t be skilful,” said Jones.

“It does make it harder when you get to this point (pro­fes­sional rugby), it is eas­ier to teach kids, and that really is where it should be start­ing, but it is pos­si­ble to teach them skills once they are pro­fes­sional. Just look at All Black cen­tre Ma’a Nonu and (Bok flank) Schalk Burger, who are both much bet­ter play­ers now than they were when they first be­came pro­fes­sional.”

The proof of the pud­ding will be in the eat­ing for Jones, but he did help Jake White’s Boks be­come a lot more ef­fec­tive and less bor­ing when he was Bok con­sul­tant in 2007. If Meyer, who doesn’t have ex­pe­ri­ence of coach­ing any­thing but the Bulls way of play­ing, had shown any in­cli­na­tion to­wards own­ing up to his own lim­i­ta­tions by bring­ing a Jones in to help, I might be less ea­ger to see the back of him.

The revo­lu­tion has to start some­where and Jones’ words are a cause for some op­ti­mism.

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