A fresh breeze is wel­come as we wait to taste what the two-day ind­aba cooked up

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

IT is easy to be a scep­tic, and it comes with the ter­ri­tory in my job. If you just glibly ac­cept ev­ery­thing ev­ery­one tells you at face value, then you just pro­duce sun­shine jour­nal­ism and you forget about the truth, or what you per­ceive to be the truth.

Be­fore it took place, I was scep­ti­cal about the coach­ing ind­aba in Cape Town over the past few days. There were cri­sis in­ter­ven­tions in pre­vi­ous years that were per­ceived to be a waste of time.

But while there are still scep­tics and cyn­ics sub­se­quent to the two-day ind­aba, most of those are peo­ple who never went near the south­ern sub­urbs ho­tel where the get­to­gether was held.

There hasn’t been a per­son who was in the room over the two days who I have spo­ken to that hasn’t been en­thused by the break­through that was achieved, in terms of hav­ing South African coaches for once col­lab­o­rat­ing with one an­other and shar­ing ideas.

It was the three cri­sis meet­ings that were held to “ad­vise” pre­vi­ous na­tional coaches Ian McIn­tosh, Carel du Plessis and Jake White in 1994, 1997 and 2006 re­spec­tively that drove my scep­ti­cism, but it was clear at the start of the ind­aba that this meet­ing was much broader and more far-reach­ing in scope.

Of course, talk is cheap. Act­ing Saru pres­i­dent Mark Alexan­der was on the money when he pointed out that the proof of the pud­ding will be in see­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of what was spo­ken about, and the method­ol­ogy that was de­cided on.

For a start, the 14 pro­vin­cial pres­i­dents weren’t there and Alexan­der faces a hard sell when he is tasked with putting across the struc­tural com­plaints and sug­ges­tions made in the last hour of the ind­aba that was set aside for it.

But if you are look­ing to change the di­rec­tion of the game in this coun­try, and how the game is both run and coached, you do have to start some­where. And where do you start if not by talk­ing and putting some­thing down on pa­per?

It ap­pears that, for once at least, ev­ery­one ap­pears to be on the same page with re­gards to what the prob­lem ar­eas are.

One of the most pos­i­tive notes was struck by Alexan­der in his open­ing speech. He ad­mit­ted to sys­tem flaws and spoke up the New Zealand con­tract­ing sys­tem.

He didn’t shy away from the fact that for any coach­ing ind­aba to be ef­fec­tive in turn­ing South African rugby back into a world pow­er­house, a big re­assess­ment needs to be made on the sus­tain­abil­ity of the cur­rent rugby struc­ture.

Apart from the scope of it, where the meet­ing also dif­fered from the pre­vi­ous ones was that it wasn’t called just to ad­dress the cur­rent poor Spring­bok per­for­mances. Al­lis­ter Coet­zee did plan the ind­aba long be­fore his win-loss ra­tion plunged into the neg­a­tives.

But it may still have helped that the Boks were thrashed 57-15 just 10 days be­fore, for it helped fuel the re­al­ism and the hu­mil­ity that un­der­pinned the con­fer­ence. Coet­zee said South Africans would be thumb-suck­ing if they thought this coun­try was still a top rugby na­tion, and for the next hour af­ter he said that sev­eral coaches laboured the point that what he said was fact.

So there was none of the ar­ro­gance that has stunted South African rugby progress in the post-iso­la­tion era. That was swept away and re­placed with a recog­ni­tion that it was time to start again from scratch, to forge a com­pletely new path. Well not com­pletely new, be­cause there was agree­ment that a new dy­namic shouldn’t ne­glect old strengths, and that is how it should be.

The rugby is­sues that were raised and so­lu­tions pro­posed were ones most rugby peo­ple would agree with, as it has been what many have been call­ing for. There will be a con­certed and co­or­di­nated drive that will in­cor­po­rate uni­fied drills that all the fran­chises will in­clude in their train­ing pro­grammes in an ef­fort to im­prove in­di­vid­ual skills. In time, those drills will be per­me­ated through­out the South African rugby sys­tem.

The fo­cus will be on pro­duc­ing play­ers that are equipped to play not one par­tic­u­lar kind of game, but what­ever strat­egy is de­manded. The key is not just pro­duc­ing more skilled play­ers, but ones ca­pa­ble of bet­ter de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

For in­stance, the ter­ri­tory bat­tle is not just about kick­ing for po­si­tion, as there are other ways to set up ter­ri­to­rial as­cen­dancy. If you are in­side your 22 and the op­po­si­tion have four men back, you have to have the nous to know that kick­ing is not a way to re­lieve the pres­sure in that sit­u­a­tion un­less it’s a con­testable that could sur­ren­der pos­ses­sion.

It sounds ob­vi­ous but, up to now, the South African way was to think of ex­it­ing and the ter­ri­tory game as some­thing that is based just about kick­ing, and that to at­tack from the right ar­eas of the field re­quires the ball to be kicked there.

The doc­u­ment that will be the prod­uct of this ini­tial meet­ing in what is sure to be a long process, and one that won’t bring overnight re­sults, will re­flect that change in mind­set.

That is just one pos­i­tive. There were many more, and at a time when there is so lit­tle pos­i­tive about South African rugby, it feels like a breath of fresh air has just blown through the door.

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