When matters are as visceral as the Springboks are to South African supporters, it is natural that the reaction to a poor performance (to put it lightly) would be swift, accompanied by calls for coaches’ heads. Indeed the rumour mill would have us believe that the knives are all but sharpened for the first next SA Rugby executive committee meeting in December. I’m not going to go into whether Allister Coetzee and his lieutenants should be retained or not because I believe that this is the last of our problems.
Nick Mallett unleashed a barrage of scathing criticism on the Bok performance against Ireland including particular emphasis on Damian De Allende and Jesse Kriel. He pointed out that the pair had an obvious lack of appreciation for space, timing, and depth, and that neither have a feel for the game of rugby. He’s not wrong, but his catchment is incomplete. The same thing could be said of Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, Andre Esterhuizen, and a host of other big, strong athletes masquerading as centres. Boys who grew up with a game that relied quite heavily on their physical advantage which resulted in them not needing to develop other crucial aspects to their game for higher levels where their physical gifts alone will no longer be enough.
This isn’t the fault of the players, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of an anachronistic system that has failed to equip them for the exigencies of the contemporary game at the highest level. A friend of mine likes to say that “you can’t make an A-grade omelette with B-grade eggs”, it’s generous to call some of our eggs B-grade even. But the eggs aren’t inherently B-grade, they are the products of B-grade systems run by B-grade farmers. South Africa’s biggest problem is the lack of a culture of information sharing at every level, as a result coaches are simply drawing from their own experience and knowledge instead of an extensive public knowledge base. The fact that the likes of Nick Mallett are now using the intellectual capital accumulated in their extensive coaching experience at every level and in so many countries to entertain viewers over the weekend is a grave indictment on those tasked as custodians of the national game. Nick Mallett, Naka Drotsky, Peter De Villiers, and many others who are specialists in particular areas of the game should be on a country-wide circuit of seminars with School coaches organised and paid for by SA Rugby in order to empower coaches and spread the gospel on the importance and the HOW of an intelligence and skills based game. The skills needed for the highest level should long have been established by the time that young players leave school so that extra layers can be added onto those skills at junior provincial and senior rugby rather than all having to introduce skills and fix deficiencies – it’s too late by then.
Without a development plan that starts by fixing the quality of instruction at our schools and clubs, as well as widening this group of schools and clubs, South African supporters will have to endure a great deal of pain for many a year while watching the administrators take no responsibility as they make Bok coaches play musical chairs to no avail. It’s the lack of understanding of how to build a structure that produces consistent excellence, that is strangling South African rugby, and to look for a messiah coach to come in and save the ailing reputation of the Springboks is looking to treat the symptoms rather than deal with the source. Until we develop a system that continuously churns out highly equipped junior players who at ready for final chiselling and polish, as well as a wealth of coaches at every level who are highly empowered with the most cutting edge knowledge from a variety of our brightest and most experienced rugby minds, we will never be consistently excellent and will constantly be looking for a saviour coach, and such an intervention would be evident in how our first class franchises perform as well. Yes, hold the coach and his management team to account for this directionless performance, but in the same breath, and just as vociferously, hold the President, CEO, and Director of rugby to the same level of accountability for their failure to establish structures necessary for consistent excellence.