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First class? More like coach...

SuperWrap 11, 2017

“If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all”. That is the way our mothers taught us, and of course they were always right.

But I can only assume that my own mother didn’t suspect she was raising a sports columnist.

It is tough to both listen to Mom and have an opinion on the current state of South African rugby at the same time. Impossible, even, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

My difficulty arises from the fact that we are in the middle of Super Rugby and that so far this year, in cross-conference games, New Zealand sides are leading their South African counterparts by 43 log points to five. In matches between our two proud nations, the Kiwis have scored 63 tries in just 10 matches. They average more than 45 points per match against us.

Is there anything remotely nice to say about that?

Well, let’s start with the guys that were actually on the field when those hidings happened. maybe I can say something nice about our players.

There is a popular opinion among fans that South African players are simply just not as skilled and talented as their New Zealand colleagues. It is a notion I intend to dismiss with a couple of quick facts.

Our NZ opponents are not inherently more talented, nor are they necessarily exposed to better skills training in their formative years. If that were true, why are we matching and even surpassing them so regularly at both U20 and International Sevens level (and with fully transformed teams)? If they were born or raised better, surely that gap would show up everywhere.

There is also the inconvenient fact that if you put a South African player next to a New Zealand one in the same European/Japanese club (where they are exposed to the same coaching and conditioning regimes) there is almost no difference in terms of either skills or work rate.

You only have to think of Johan Goosen playing in the same Racing Metro backline as the indubitable All Black legend Dan Carter. They were both very good, and at the same time, but it was the relatively unheralded Saffa that walked away with most of the man-of-the-match awards and then the Top 14 Player of The Year gong.

I’ll say this nice thing: our players are as talented and coachable as anyone else’s.

So, is the explanation for our woeful results this year to be found in our coaching standards at Super Rugby level?

I can’t disagree with that sentiment. If you watched any of our teams play NZ opposition this past weekend you’d have been struck by how tragically underprepared all our players looked. They had no clue what they were facing.

Our poor players went into those clashes with fitness levels bordering on shameful, with mournfully inadequate defensive systems and a pitiful unawareness of what to do if by some luck one of their teammates made it through a gap with ball in hand. The closest I can come to being nice about how our players were prepared is to use the word 'naïve'.


It must have stung quite a bit when, after the Loftus massacre, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said: "I think clearly the Bulls struggled with our tempo, how quickly we could play tonight. The week before with the Cheetahs, they were probably the toughest team for us to play in terms of the speed of the game, they wanted to play an expansive game, but they just didn't execute the last couple of weeks.

“For me, it is really clear that the South African teams need to be fitter. Super Rugby is a fast game, it’s a tempo game, it is a game with a high skill level and it is tough when you are fatigued and I think it showed.

“When we got momentum and played with speed they struggled to stay with us. That is clear, that picture is clear for everyone to see."

But, for Mom’s sake, I won’t bad-mouth all of the South African coaching.

We clearly don’t have a complete lack of basic knowledge and tactical nous in this country. All of our coaches know something, and some of them know quite a lot. You just have to look at what the likes of Nick Mallett, Rassie Erasmus, Brendan Venter or even Jake White achieved overseas, and what Johan Ackermann is doing with the Lions.

In a perfect world, those guys mentioned (Ackers excluded) would have done a much better job of transferring their skills and knowledge onto the next generation of young coaches that are now holding the reins locally, but that didn’t happen. I have some sympathy for that stinginess. It is only logical to deduce that in a world where everybody knows what you know, there is no more need for you specifically.

It is a problem that was supposed to be addressed by the two emergency Indabas that were organised last year. Except, no one that had real knowledge to share pitched up. The only real beneficiary of those summits were the Italians, who could hear straight from the host’s mouth what they’d have to defend against when they faced and defeated the Springboks in November.

The problem is that none of our properly qualified, experienced coaches are in charge of any of our Super Rugby sides currently. But it is not as if they could have offered themselves market-related salaries to bring back those skills. Only our various CEOs/High-Performance Managers/Directors of Rugby can do that. And all of them chose not to.

Ensuring those positions mentioned are filled in this country is a collection of men who all think of coaching appointments not in terms of future on-field results, but onthe current set of financials. For them the bottom line really is the bottom line.

With that mindset, this collection of men has - over just the last couple of years - given us appointments such as a Springbok Sevens coach in charge of a Super Rugby defence; a former hooker with little to no coaching experience in charge of an already struggling Super Rugby scrum, and a Springbok backline coach that had only one year’s worth of coaching experience at Provincial U19 level.

That is what is really hurting us.

But even about them I can try and be nice. I’ll tell you what they’ll tell you if you ever got the chance to ask them: “I only do what the Board tells me to do”.

Ah, 'the Board'. Antiquated and wholly unnecessary. Every Union has one and they are largely made up of elected amateurs. Membership does not require any qualifications, not even a knowledge of or even passion for the game of rugby. And it shows: 63 times in 10 recent matches it showed.

Those faceless, nameless deciders of our fate as a rugby nation. Their every decision is made in self-interest, beholden only to the next guy to buy a round of drinks at the clubhouse.

The one place where we really trail the rest of the rugby world is the boardroom.

If it wasn’t Mother’s Day on Sunday, I’d have told you what I really think of them.

Instead, here is our team of the week.

Bok Barometer for Week 11:
15. Rhyno Smith (Sharks), 14. Sylvian Mahuza (Lions), 13. Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), 12. William Small-Smith (Cheetahs), 11. Courtnal Skosan (Lions), 10. Elton Jantjies (Lions), 9. Tian Meyer (Cheetahs), 8. Warren Whiteley (Lions), 7. Jean-Luc du Preez (Sharks), 6. Cyle Brink (Lions), 5. Ruan Botha (Sharks), 4. Lourens Erasmus (Lions), 3. Coenie Oosthuizen (Sharks), 2. Malcolm Marx (Lions), 1. Ox Nche (Cheetahs).



We were surprised to see that quite a few people stayed until the end. Unrestrained. They should shoot the next Die Hard movie there.


Losing the unlosable. Reminds one of American politics.


We'd ask them to pay back the fans' money, but there weren't enough there to make it hurt.


Why did we not see you at SuperSport's annual media quiz this year? You were bound to beat us again.


Bull frog?

It was interesting to see - for the first time in a press release in South Africa - that a player openly touts wanting to qualify for another country.

At the bottom of an official Blue Bulls press release this past week, which confirmed the signing of Sevens star Tim Agaba to the Pretoria franchise, was a quote from "Jack Frost" himself - as his teammates have dubbed Tian Schoeman.

The Bulls peroxide blonde made no bones about wanting to "qualify for France" and play for the national team, hence the decision to take up an offer for French club Bordeaux.

However, given his performance against the Crusaders on Saturday it was more sacré bleu than Les Bleus.

Ruan-ed their day

Ruan Pienaar was honoured on his final day for Irish club Ulster with a standing ovation and plaudits from some of the finest rugby writers in Ireland.

While Pienaar never really shone as a Springbok, despite being a perennial selection, he was a superstar at Ulster, who enjoyed his every moment at the club and showed just how much he was appreciated with the way they said goodbye to him.

Pienaar is joining Montpellier after the Irish Rugby Union forced the end of his contract to make way for an Irish-born scrumhalf at the club.

And his teammates are annoyed - as Luke Marshall made clear after the game.

“As players we’re annoyed,” he said of Pienaar’s enforced departure.

“We don’t understand the decision, to be honest. I suppose we can’t air our frustrations too much against our employers [the IRFU] but I can totally understand the supporters’ feelings.

“For me [the win] was a motivating factor to cap his [Pienaar’s] last season here.”

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