Sharks CEO John Smit tells a story of a
player that came into his office one day complaining of his lack of opportunity
in the side, saying that he believed he was a much better player than the
incumbent and deserved more game time.
Smit heard a lot of “I’s” in the story...
I this, I that... so he asked the player what the coach’s child’s name was. The
player could not answer. He asked him if the player currently starting had any
pets. “Not sure” said the player...
“So instead of always focusing on
yourself”, said Smit to the player, “Perhaps spend a bit of time actually
getting to know your fellow team-mates and coaches, and understanding their
needs - both on and off the field. It is a team game after all...”
A few weeks later the player was a changed
man. Not only getting more game time as a result of his increased integration
with the greater squad, but also enjoying his rugby a whole lot more.
“I want my players to be accountable, but
from an effort level,” said Smit in an interview I did for SCRUM Magazine a few
weeks into his new role in Durban.
“I want to create an environment where
players feel like they have room to be human beings, but when it is rugby time,
which is 12% of their day, they have to give 100%. I will help them with their
whole day - I will get them work experience, help get them into university, I
will get them into a trade. I will do whatever I can to create better people
with a life after rugby, but then these people must commit to the Sharks. It
won’t happen overnight, and I think players are liking what they hear, but
perhaps thinking that they have heard all this before, so we will see how we
See how we go indeed... A Currie Cup trophy
in year one of his reign suggests that it is going pretty damn well!
“Yep, it seems to be having an effect” he
said to me - with a wry smile of course - at a function this week to announce
the DHL World Cup sponsorship.
And true to his credo of their being more
to life than just rugby, the man - now unable to fill out his Bok blazer given
a training regime that sees him on a bike at 04:30 every morning - announced
that he will be joining fellow ex-Boks Corne Krige, Marius Hurter, Rob Kempson
and Joel Stransky, and riding the Cape Epic next year!
Smit’s time at Saracens has without doubt
influenced how he sees the game of rugby. Hence his appointment of Venter as Director of Rugby - even while based in Cape Town, carrying on his
medical practice, and consulting to Saracens and the Baby Boks. It was risky, but
his role was tightly defined - to change the on field ethos from beach and slip
slops to hard graft, and to mentor Brad McLeod-Henderson, who Smit believes
will be the head coach for a very long time
“Every player deserves an experience like
the one I had at Saracens” says Smit. “Balanced life, good likeminded people,
not rugby robots, driven, young vibrant hard working players and coaching
staff, who all enjoy themselves both on and off the field. And an administrator
who is half crazy but completely dedicated to make players better people and
“We were treated unbelievably well, and all
they wanted in return was effort. We were never taken to task about errors on
the field, but only when there was ever a question around the amount of effort
being put in. It was a very honest environment and that is what I want to bring
back here. Invariably, what rugby players want most are honesty and
communication, because it’s the two things they get the least. I want my
players to get both here in Durban.”
Both Smit and Venter deserve huge credit
for bringing a culture to Durban that looks to treat players like assets rather
than commodities. Sure you run the risk of such a culture being abused by
players, but said players will be found out, and more than likely exposed by
fellow players who will grow to guard that culture fiercely.
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop and editor of the recently launched free monthly digital rugby magazine called SCRUM
Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse
views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their
own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.