A Saru indaba: Where full disclosure is about as likely as turkeys voting for Christmas
BRENDAN VENTER is an excellent choice to facilitate the big coaching indaba that has been set for the coming week for the purpose of launching “interventions” ( Saru’s wording) into the ailing state of the game in this country.
However, while it encourages me that the widely travelled and astute doctor from the Strand has at last had his rugby acumen and tactical brain acknowledged, we also have to be realistic about what the conference can achieve.
Initially it was scheduled to last for three days. It has now been cut to two. There are also some coaches who should be there who probably won’t be.
For instance, if the Lions win through to the Currie Cup final by beating the Free State Cheetahs today, the only South African coach who has successfully coached a modern style of the game, Johan Ackermann, won’t be there.
Even if all the coaches are there, what sort of input can they give when you consider that the system in South Africa is still very provincial-union driven?
In New Zealand, where there is one paymaster at Super Rugby and national level, it is easier to share ideas for the good of improving the All Blacks because that is effectively part of each coach’s brief.
In South Africa, however, provincial or franchise coaches are expected to get the edge over all their rivals, and particularly the local ones, or they are sacked.
If Bulls coach Nollis Marais has a perception that he feels is unique to his union and the Bulls’ chances of success, I wouldn’t blame him if he held it back. He could be risking his livelihood if he didn’t.
So it doesn’t surprise me to hear the Lions contingent do not intend giving full disclosure during the indaba.
They’re the top local franchise at the moment, and thanks to the coup they pulled off when they convinced Western Province administrators to go against their director of rugby’s recommendation for former Lions coach John Mitchell to coach the Stormers, they are likely to remain that way for a while. Why would they want to give that advantage away?
The reservations about the indaba expressed here go to the heart of the problem. It is why this latest attempt by Saru to try and convince the media and the public that they have a handle on a situation they themselves created probably doesn’t have much chance of achieving the necessary change.
For in order for South African rugby to thrive on the field again, fundamental changes have to be made to the way rugby is run and set up in this country.
All Black coach Steve Hansen summed at Kings Park: “Our central contracting system is the goose that lays the golden eggs.” He also said New Zealand benefited from having capable administrators and having everyone working hard for the same agenda, which is to win.
That’s not the case in South Africa, where the focus on provincial interests that was a natural consequence of the isolation era continues. If you speak to other Kiwi coaches they will also tell you another key aspect to their success is that all the players who play for the All Blacks have to be based in the country.
They would never countenance a situation where a large portion of their national- playing group spends the off-season playing in Japan, or where one of their top forwards heads off to Saracens for three months.
A degree of privatisation is one solution to that problem. An English-based concern was prepared to pay a lot of foreign money into the Southern Kings and had they pulled it off, rugby in the Eastern Cape might have taken off in the manner that the government has been hoping it will.
But there is a clause in the Saru constitution prohibiting a private company from having more than a 49% share in a local union, and that is understood to have put them off.
Money is what makes the world go round, and is really the only way to stop the outflow of locally- produced playing resources to other countries.
Apart from privatisation, one way to do that is to cut down the number of professional unions.
Almost everyone appears to agree on that, and on many of the other things discussed in this column, but it would mean the 14 provincial presidents who hold the power would have to give up their privileges. That saying about turkeys not voting for Christmas has been repeated often enough.
There are some very capable elected officials who have their heart in the right place and who are elected out of the club game to preside over professional rugby, but the system is archaic and wrong and is standing in the way of progress.
If the indaba can be used to start the dialogue with the elected officials that might lead to that situation being redressed, and it is encouraging that some of the presidents have been invited to attend, then it might serve a useful purpose.
If, however, it doesn’t, then it will just be a waste of time, for what is decided at the conference will have to be fully understood by the turkeys if it is to be properly implemented. The coaches can come up with solutions, but they don’t make the decisions.