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Wracking De Bruin

On Wednesday I had the privilege of speaking to Swys de Bruin ahead of Saturday's Vodacom Super Rugby final between the Lions and the Crusaders.

I've known Swys for 20 years, first as the coach of the Natal Under 21s and Wildebeest sides, then as coach of Griquas and, for nine years, as the head of the Sharks Academy.

When Swys left the Academy to join Johan Ackermann at the Lions, people thought he was mad. The Lions had lost their Super Rugby status to the Kings and their best players had signed elsewhere as a result. But history proves he made the right decision and next week, when the final is over and Ackermann has gone to Gloucester, Swys will be take over as head coach. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

It seems to me that a key improvement to the Lions this year has been at halfback. Last year Faf de Klerk was the first choice scrumhalf and outside him Elton Jantjies blew hot and cold. This year De Klerk was benched in favour of Ross Cronje. Swys takes up the story:

"From the days that I worked with Ross at the Sharks Academy, I was the one that stuck to him. Other people would tell me he's too slow, or too hurt, but I knew he had a massive rugby brain and his ability to put players away and to see space was what stuck out.

"When Faf got called up into the Bok side last year, Ross stayed on to captain the Currie Cup side and he took his chance fully. It gave me a chance to work properly with him and his leadership skills developed really well.

"Meanwhile things didn't go well for the Springboks and Faf. One or two of his fundamentals that we've always worked on, together with a few bad habits that crept in, affected his game. I say it respectfully, but he was starting to run with the quick ball and so poor Elton started looking bad."

So the decision to swap scrumhalves was made, and then came the rehabilitation of Jantjies, a player who typifies the dictum that 90% of sport is played in the six inches between the ears. Jantjies had been part of a losing Bok side and rebuilding his fragile self confidence began in pre-season training.

"We always try and train under maximum-pressure situations, where decision making is vital. So firstly Elton got used to the high-tempo training, and secondly he started to build his confidence. And that translated into his play on the park. He looks so much better when things are going well for him. This whole campaign he's been 'on' about 95% of the time.

"He had an off day against the Sharks in the quarterfinal and a lot of opposition coaches - I won't mention names - and a lot of newspaper guys came down on Elton like a ton of bricks. I asked the guys, does Jordan Spieth have a bad round of golf now and then? Yes he does, because he's human, he's a sportsman.

"And as we know, Elton bounced straight back. He's the leading points scorer in the competition, and this year he's kicking at about 90% success rate, which is up from 72% last year. Elton has grown so much as one of the leaders in our team."

And that, as far as Swys is concerned, is what counts. In the unlikely event that the Crusaders win on Saturday, it will not affect the team ethic that has dominated at the Lions since Ackermann and de Bruin came together.

It is something that reminds us where rugby came from and where it should be going.

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