What needs to be done to fix rugby

Boks have to plan far ahead

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - DAR­RYN POL­LOCK

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.

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