Rookie SA coaches in 2016 may find that Su­per Rugby isn’t a young man’s game

Satur­day Com­ment

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

JO­HAN ACK­ER­MANN only of­fi­cially took over as the head coach of the Golden Li­ons at the start of the 2013 sea­son. That means he has ef­fec­tively been coach­ing for three years.

I point that out be­cause of the South African Su­per Rugby coaches that we know will definitely be head­ing up the lo­cal fran­chises in the 2016 edi­tion of Su­per Rugby – the Storm­ers po­si­tion still has to be fi­nalised al­though John Mitchell is the red-hot favourite – Ack­er­mann at the Li­ons is the most ex­pe­ri­enced by some dis­tance.

Sharks coach Gary Gold is, of course, a man who has been around the block a few times as a coach af­ter serv­ing as an as­sis­tant to Peter de Villiers at the Spring­boks and head­ing up var­i­ous over­seas sides. But when it comes to be­ing head coach of a Su­per Rugby fran­chise, last year was his first full sea­son.

Chee­tahs’ Franco Smith made a name for him­self at Ital­ian club Tre­viso and is re­garded as a good coach, but he, too, is cal­low when it comes to coach­ing at Su­per Rugby level. And then you have the Bulls, who will be go­ing into Su­per Rugby with Nol­lis Marais, who had his first ex­pe­ri­ence of se­nior provin­cial coach­ing in last year’s Cur­rie Cup, at the helm.

On top of that, many of the coach­ing groups look quite ju­nior in terms of ex­pe­ri­ence. WP di­rec­tor of rugby Gert Smal made the com­ment the other day that Rob­bie Fleck, the Storm­ers back­line coach, is now the most ex­pe­ri­enced South African coach on the Su­per Rugby cir­cuit, and he’s prob­a­bly right.

Fleck’s star has risen steadily in re­cent times, and I had a late night blow-up on Face­book last Sun­day with a mate of mine who posted a com­ment along the lines of “The first thing they must do is get rid of Fleck”. Maybe it was just the late­ness of the hour, and the braai I’d come home from, but for some rea­son the ig­no­rance made my blood boil, and I gave it to him with both bar­rels.

By the ac­counts of those who work closely with the Storm­ers man­age­ment, Fleck has grown enor­mously as a coach in re­cent times, and he played a hugely in­flu­en­tial role in the Storm­ers win­ning the South African con­fer­ence in Al­lis­ter Coetzee’s last sea­son in charge. I was away at the World Cup dur­ing the do­mes­tic sea­son, but by all ac­counts Smal’s de­ci­sion to fur­ther Fleck’s de­vel­op­ment by putting him in charge of the WP Un­der-21 side worked a charm.

But even Fleck is still rel­a­tively young in the coach­ing game in com­par­i­son to some of the men in the for­eign coach­ing set- ups. The Storm­ers will start off the sea­son with a new for­wards coach in Rus­sell Win­ter and a de­fence coach in Paul Treu, who will only be go­ing into his sec­ond Su­per Rugby sea­son and his first as a hands-on coach.

Up in Dur­ban, the coach­ing group is even greener in terms of Su­per Rugby ex­pe­ri­ence, with Gold be­ing joined for the first time by for­mer Bok scrumhalf Robert du Preez. Sean Everitt is the most ex­pe­ri­enced of the Sharks as­sis­tant coaches, with two sea­sons of Su­per Rugby be­hind him, al­though Omar Mouneimne, the new de­fence coach, did make a name for him­self in his sea­son with the Southern Kings and he worked with Nick Mal­lett with Italy for two or three years.

Mouneimne is a good buy for the Sharks, as last year was a dis­as­ter for them when it came to their de­fen­sive game. The Sharks look like a squad set for a re­build, with Gold only now be­ing able to make the changes he would want to make as di­rec­tor of rugby. But if they can start off by get­ting their de­fen­sive game right, and Mouneimne has had an im­me­di­ate im­pact at most of the places he has coached, then they could be on their way to be­ing a lot more com­pet­i­tive than they were last sea­son.

What is lack­ing, though, on the lo­cal cir­cuit are the ex­pe­ri­enced el­der states­men that are preva­lent in the Aus­tralian and New Zealand coach­ing groups, so it will be inter- es­t­ing to see how quickly the new­com­ers de­velop. It will be im­por­tant for South African rugby as a whole that they learn quickly.

The most con­found­ing coach­ing ap­point­ment from a na­tional view­point, be­cause of the strength of that fran­chise and the role it plays as a pro­duc­tion line for the Boks, is that of Marais at the Bulls.

The Bulls did at­tract rave re­views for the style of rugby they played in the Cur­rie Cup, but there is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween the do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion and Su­per Rugby. And it wasn’t as if the Bulls won the Cur­rie Cup. They were just an im­prove­ment on pre­vi­ous sea­sons. It is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing to watch how their young coach­ing team adapts to the step up in the early months of Su­per Rugby.

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