What needs to be done to fix rugby
Boks have to plan far ahead
ALL Black hooker Dane Coles said every time he puts on his jersey, he tries to leave it in a better place than it was before, regardless if he wears it again, or if it passes on to the next man – that is the All Black legacy of everimproving excellence.
As many a fan left Kings Park, head down and dejected, last Saturday, the chatter on the outfields was about what should be done to fix SA Rugby in light of their darkest performance against the All Blacks in history.
The disappointment-inspired answers ranged from “Fire the coach” to “select so-and-so from this union, not from that union” to “stop kicking the bloody ball”. If only South African rugby’s problems were this basic.
No more need be said about the issues facing our country’s rugby; now is the time to start looking at solutions.
Saru’s tangible first act is to have a two-day indaba with all the union coaches and the Springbok management to share ideas and get to the root of the problems. This, however, feels like putting a plaster on a broken leg. Solutions for the crisis of South African rugby need to stem from a much deeper place and it has almost nothing to do with the coach.
The coach, the playing style and the personnel of the Springboks are all products of a broken system. Allister Coetzee said it expressly after the All Black mauling in Durban: the processes need to be addressed. South Africa needs a legacy system when it comes to their coaches; they need to be part of a greater machine that sees men work their way through promotion in terms of that coaching structure.
There has to be comparisons to the All Blacks here, because, well, look at them, they are virtually flawless.
Steve Hansen joined the All Blacks as an assistant coach in 2004 and for 12 years he has been a part of their system. Not to mention Wayne Smith, who also joined Graham Henry and Hansen in 2004 – after he was the All Blacks head coach in 2000. There is such pedigree and experience in that coaching set up, as well as faith.
Henry, Hansen, and Smith were all part of the 2007 World Cup campaign that saw the All Blacks get dumped out in the quarter-finals to France, yet, the NZRFU didn’t panic, they held onto them and they went on to win the World Cup the next time out.
South Africa needs a similar legacy in its coaches. Dare I say it, the country needs the likes of Jake White and even Pieter de Villiers, men who have seen the Boks at their best. But the caveat is they need promising talent around them, men who will evolve the game and learn how to win at the same time. There is no point in appointing Jake White to lead the Boks’ attack, for his methods are antiquated. However, a talent like Franco Smith at the Cheetahs could teach the Boks about ball-in-hand rugby all the while learning from a winning Jake White culture.
On top of a coaching legacy plan, the Boks also need a player legacy plan. Again, it is worth going back to the All Blacks – they are happy to put their blueprint on display.
When Richie McCaw was at his peak, not near his end, the All Blacks were already grooming Sam Cane as his replacement. They didn’t wait for McCaw to grow tired and then throw a young upstart in the mix, they gave Cane ample opportunity to be a part of the camp and small touches on the field. But more than that, they were also grooming Matt Todd as Cane’s replacement and, more recently, Ardie Savea as another backup. Savea was told in 2013, at the age of 20, he was coming with on the All Blacks tour, but not to bother packing his boots as the management simply “wanted to introduce him to the way of the All Black life”.
That sort of planning has allowed the All Blacks to have such strength in depth that they have the option of resting a player like Aaron Cruden, because they know Beauden Barrett, and Lima Sopoaga, are good enough cover.
In the Springboks’ case, they lost Jannie du Plessis and had Frans Malherbe as his bench back up, but behind Malherbe? There has been no grooming or prepping of depth in players. Bismarck du Plessis had Adriaan Strauss, but then who? Schalk Burger had Siya Kolisi, but then who? Fourie du Preez had Ruan Pienaar and then?
Morne Steyn has had to replace himself when there was a flyhalf crisis.
The biggest way South African rugby can fix itself is to plan for the future. Unfortunately, it is a long road. The All Blacks’ historic win last week has been in the making since 2007 and for the Springboks, it will probably take even longer.
What it means in the short run is the coach needs to come out and be honest and he needs to try to lower the expectations of the South African public. The idea that the Boks must evolve while still winning, on the basis of no forethought and planning is paradoxical and impossible.
These are only two broad solution pillars, for the Springbok problem has many facets that are at play: political interference, overseas exodus, loss of prestige of the green and gold jersey, just to name a few. But these can only be fixed with a new plan, rather than a system of plugging holes in the dyke.
Firing the coach will not do anything. If the Boks hired Steve Hansen tomorrow, there would be very little upswing in performance. A new direction needs to be taken by the Bok management and they need to be transparent, stating that they will not be winning too many games in the near future, but what they will be doing is building tomorrow’s world beaters today.
Let’s build systems that allow coaches to give it their all in their positions and then leave it to the next man to take things further. Let’s allow players to become the masters and then watch as their proteges takes their jersey further. Let’s allow the Boks to begin a new legacy, today.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee at the Springboks’ Captain’s Run at Newlands Rugby Stadium in June.