Welcome back Reecie
One of the things I really enjoyed about John Smit’s book was the Springbok captain’s admission that Hugh Reece-Edwards was on a hiding to nothing when he was appointed coach of the Sharks back in 2000.
The Sharks ended up bombing quite spectacularly, and the former Natal stalwart and Springbok fullback was summarily ditched by his employers. It was a disastrous season, and Reece-Edwards paid the consequences.
But there were mitigating circumstances at the time that perhaps not enough cognisance was taken of, and it has been a crying shame that Reece-Edwards, who has a good rugby brain after a long playing career, was consigned to the scrapheap after serving a four-year apprenticeship as assistant coach under Ian McIntosh before he took over the top job.
In retrospect, Reece-Edwards’s grounding - he had merely been an assistant coach and had no head coaching experience - was not solid enough at the time to deal with the problems he encountered in his first season in charge.
To refresh memories, it was the year after Ian Mac retired, and the long-serving Currie Cup-winning coach was always going to be a difficult act to follow after he had become such a part of the furniture at what was then King’s Park.
Coupled with that was the fact that it was not just Mac who moved out at the end of the nineties, but a number of Sharks stalwarts who had held the team together for several years. Gary Teichmann and Andre Joubert both played their last match for the Sharks in the Currie Cup final against the Lions in 1999, and it was also the year that Henry Honiball hung up his boots.
In their place a whole clutch of potentially gifted new players were recruited. Players such as Gaffie du Toit, Philip Smit, AJ Venter, Dave von Hoesslin to mention just a few, and there was no denying it was rebuilding time for the Sharks.
The problem though was that it was always going to take a while for the newcomers to be absorbed into the Sharks culture, and to have the change-over at the same time as Mac had departed the scene was just terrible timing.
As Smit explains in his book, the departure of senior players such as Teichmann left a new group of players in charge, and Smit alleges that Ollie le Roux in particular was a nightmare for Reece-Edwards to handle in his first season as head coach.
Would it have been different had Reece-Edwards been eased in while Teichmann was still captaining the side and running the show? Quite possibly, but we will never know.
What we do know though is that Reece-Edwards has proved himself over and over since then by doing it the hard way, and that is by coaching winning teams at both school and club level. It was on this basis that he was called back into the Sharks fold as an assistant coach in charge of the backs, and as he is one of the nicest people in rugby, I really hope it works out for him.
It is just a bit concerning though that Reecie, who is lined up to coach the Sharks in the Currie Cup if he proves his worth to head coach John Plumtree during this Super 14 season, might just find that once again his timing is deplorable.
The announcement this week that former captain and current tight five stalwart Johann Muller is moving to Ireland at the end of the Super 14 highlighted the massive personnel turn-over that there has been at the Sharks recently.
It is early days in the new rugby year, but the recent tri-series tournament in Cape Town was not a good advertisement for the depth of the Sharks, and whereas a few years back they had top class international players on the bench, these days they appear to be struggling.
A couple of quality players have been lured down from the Lions, but this could well be a year of adjustment for the Durban team. If it is, and it does not go well, I hope Reece-Edwards does not become a victim in any fall-out for that would be most unfair. After all, he was only approached about taking up his current position in December.