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