Cape Town – The Springbok cause for 2016 is probably being harmed even at this fledgling stage of the season, with Super Rugby only days away, by the ongoing absence of a national coach.
Say what you like about Heyneke Meyer, but the last head coach of the Boks worked very hard to get the domestic Super Rugby coaches on his side, in the greater national interest.
A diligent – sometimes almost to the point of obsession – planner and preparer, Meyer appreciated their own pressures to put self-interest first and ensure best possible results for their teams, so the matter of prize-player “rotation” and general fitness management during the arduous Super Rugby season was always a delicate one.
But he kept a strong, consistent line of communication open to those franchise coaches, perhaps more tangibly so than by any predecessor in the Bok tracksuit.
Meyer paid visits to franchises early in Super Rugby seasons, and by the later stages of his four-year tenure, at the very least, was getting weekly feedback on all players from the various squads’ medical teams around the country.
He was always at pains to stress, in dealings with the media, that he enjoyed “very good working relationships” with the franchises.
Meyer also arranged occasional weekend camps for established and aspirant Boks during Super Rugby; the first of those last season came in Johannesburg in early May after lists of attendees were revealed during April ... yet weekend reports suggest a new Bok coach may only take charge this April.
So, as all of South Africa’s now record tally of six Super Rugby teams set off from the blocks this weekend, there isn’t even a Bok coach in place to begin the far from trivial liaison with his respective franchise counterparts.
You could say that the roughly 82-day inertia by problem-plagued SARU since Meyer stepped on his own sword in early December is starting to hit home, doing the top-tier green-and-gold cause no favours.
Keep in mind also that for a large part of his tenure, Meyer was able to develop his rapport with some domestic coaches particularly well, because they were stalwarts in their own portfolios.
This year, however, several South African Super Rugby coaches will be as raw in their franchise posts as the Bok coach – unless he turns out to be some gnarly veteran of world rugby, and don’t get your hopes too high -- will be in his, and liaison should already be taking root with even greater urgency as a result.
All of Robbie Fleck (Stormers), Nollis Marais (Bulls), Franco Smith (Cheetahs) and Deon Davids (Kings) will be embarking on maiden full campaigns in charge, the domestic Super Rugby landscape having shed itself of a collective 22 years or so of head-coach experience with the stepping aside of such characters as Frans Ludeke, Allister Coetzee and Naka Drotske.
Super Rugby is a vital feeder to the Test arena. The quicker SA coaches can have a Bok mastermind to begin chatting to, the better.
One saving grace, perhaps, is that if, as rumoured, SARU’s general manager of rugby Rassie Erasmus takes temporary charge – at least for the home series against Ireland in June – the former Test loose forward is at least “on board” already and may be doing some behind-the-scenes work, including in relation to the Super Rugby synergy.
But we may sit in suspense for the actual appointment for several weeks yet, as SARU fries certain other fish at the pinnacle of its fractious, unstable hierarchy.
Not for the first time, it’s rugby itself that probably suffers most.
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