Johannesburg - Outgoing Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has “no regrets” as he moves onto his next rugby challenge and believe he left the Bulls a better person since he joined them in 2008.
According to the supersport.com website, Ludeke spoke for the first time since he stepped down as Bulls coach after eight long years, breaking his silence on the dramatic weekend that saw him leave the head coach role of the side he joined in 2008. Since then there has been a lot of speculation about who will take over as the new Bulls coach and what the future of the Pretoria side will be.
But for the two-time Super Rugby winning coach it is the start of new challenge as he joins the Fijian National team as Assistant coach on Friday to start preparations for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Ludeke spoke to supersport.com about his time at the Bulls as he “closed off” the chapter in his life..
Ludeke led the Bulls to six finals in eight years across the competition, four of which they won. Despite the negativity surrounding this season, the Bulls were one TMO decision away from a possible playoff game in a season where luck simply didn’t favour them.
But looking back on the years now, Ludeke believes he left the Bulls a stronger place, and fulfilled his goal of sustaining a winning culture at the union, developing leaders and leaving the place better than when you found it.
“There were things that I wanted to do when Heyneke (Meyer) and the Bulls Board of Directors gave me the opportunity to coach here in 2008,” Ludeke said, “The first thing was to sustain the winning culture of the Bulls. This is a massive thing at the Bulls – the media, supporters and the Bulls themselves have very high standards. I learnt to bring the best out of myself to do this. I had to make a lot of adjustments personally to make sure this happened,” Ludeke told supersport.com
“With that came a lot of responsibility as well, especially as we didn’t have a good start in 2008 when I took over. I will never forget how the Board under the leadership of John Newbury backed me at that time. They gave me the opportunity and the freedom to put a plan in place. When I look back now I have no regrets, and all I say is thank you for a wonderful spell at the Bulls. I’ve worked with the most amazing people, and I’m thankful for the success we had and the unbelievable experiences we went through.
“You coach for a long time and you realise that great coaches who have coached a lot longer than me have perhaps never had the success that we achieved, so that is a privilege. You have been blessed with it, and the Lord gives you the opportunity to go through those experiences. “And I know how the other side feels, I was involved in two or three Super Rugby campaigns that we never won anything. Compare that to the time we sent the B team to Cape Town because we were already in a semifinal. I’ve known both sides and in that I’ve been forced to better myself, to adjust and to take the system forward. That was an amazing experience in itself.
“If I look at the eight years I was here, we played in six finals, of which we won four. I’ve learnt a lot. This year shows once again you don’t just win Super Rugby. You can get a home semi and a home final but to win it you need time to build a team with special players that is hungry for success and play for each other and understanding of how to win those close games. Some people say luck, to me it is grace that you need. You need those big moments to go your way. This year we had a lot of momentum but things didn’t always go our way.
“That is one of the reasons I have no regrets. Because I know how it feels to be on the other side. I am happy for the other guy, I am happy for the other teams, because I know the privilege it is to win the competition. The Hurricanes and Highlanders have both been building their teams for four years now. To see where they are now from where they started is great.”
Reflecting on the season that cost him his job, the coach said there were successes, although they weren’t all the goals the Bulls had set themselves. Furthermore, given the 14 young players who made their Super Rugby debuts in the past few years, Ludeke believes the Bulls are heading in the right direction.
“If you look back at the year, you know we didn’t reach our goals. But if you look at the team, we made huge strides from last year, and we brought through a new generation of players. That is the only thing that disappointed me, that we couldn’t get the next generation of players to experience a semifinal. That is what they need to do now, they need to get those successes for themselves.
“In that way you can keep that sustainable winning culture at the Bulls. It is a pity we couldn’t do it, it would have been a privilege to give the next generation that. But we had some important wins, the away win against the Sharks in this year's Super Rugby, and the Currie Cup win against the Cheetahs last year – the first time we had won in years there. It is those things that you realise – one thing builds on another.
“The Bulls are going in the right direction, we have the right talent there and we made adjustments to the way we played. This cost us once or twice, where we lost the ball in critical situations after eight or nine phases. This happened because our workrate wasn’t as high as it should be, and other teams have done it for years now. I know the team is heading in the right direction, we’re kicking better and with more purpose. This shows with the amount of opportunities the team created in the opposition half this year.”
Ludeke explained his approach to coaching, often very different from his peers at this level. To him it was more about developing people than the results, and he believes in this he has succeeded.
“I try and be consistent with what I do every day. Because if you look at the Southern Cross principle, it is about leading, giving direction, where you want to go. You need to lead through lifestyle, speech, attitude and faith. How does your demeanour look? Everything is possible. When things are going well it is easy, but you get times like now where it is tough, then you need to lead. I believe that the best things are still to come.
“I’ve always believed you need to close the door on wins and losses. You need to focus and get a new vision. And you need to foster relationships, that is one of the things I hammered home with the players. We need each other – it is like a lift, either you take someone up or you take them down. For me it was always important to take players forward. How can I better them as a person, as a father, a husband or a person. Those things have eternal value, the rest fades away.
“The last thing is habits. If you don’t shed the habits that are bad for you – like the team not being able to keep the ball - then you aren’t going to win. You do need better habits as a person as well. I try and live these ideals, and try to close that door every week.
“When you get to a Monday, you close that door, win or lose. Then you look at the next door opening, the next game or team, and that helps you be consistent.”
As he leaves for a new challenge outside South Africa, the Bulls continue to search for a new coach. The winds of change continue to blow and Loftus will have a new coach in future.
It is unlikely that whoever it is, they will be able to match Ludeke’s style and grace, as well as his humility.