Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former All Black flyhalf and current Kings coach CARLOS SPENCER talks preserving the haka, Handre Pollard’s selection and shares a prediction ahead of Saturday’s Test in Wellington.
Sport24 asked: Renowned as a flamboyant player, would you say your coaching style is similar?
Carlos Spencer: I would suggest that my coaching style is more ambitious than flamboyant. My philosophy is to play more ball-in-hand rugby, however, to play in the right areas of the pitch. Coaching is totally different to playing. Instead of only having to worry about yourself as a player, as a coach, the role is a bit more challenging because it’s about getting everyone on the same page.
Sport24 asked: You have said that South African players, at large, are not afforded the “freedom” and “licence” to express themselves on the field of play. Why do you believe that’s the case?
Carlos Spencer: I haven’t spent sufficient time in South Africa or worked enough with local coaches to draw a definitive conclusion. However, my impression is that the coaching mentality is different in this country to what I’m used to back home. In New Zealand, there is a massive emphasis on skills development from a young age. Players are taught to sidestep, pass and find space, and a sense of freedom is afforded. Whereas in South Africa, I find that young players only know to run straight and over or through their opponents. Physicality is important but not at the expense of a broad skill-set.
Sport24 asked: In SA rugby is there a fixation on size. Explain why bigger in not necessarily better. Would you fast-track the likes of Cheslin Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla in the Springbok fold?
Carlos Spencer: Most definitely. The above players aren’t the biggest in terms of bulk but they more than make up for it with electric footwork and mobility. They are certainly an asset to any side. While rugby is moving towards embracing more athletic and fleet-footed players, we must remember that you can’t have a team brim-full of game-breakers alone. Big ball-carriers create crucial momentum which, in turn, allows the likes of Kolbe and Senatla to pose a ball-in-hand threat.
Sport24 asked: What in your view are the key ingredients which characterise a world-class flyhalf?
Carlos Spencer: Patience, belief and confidence. As a top-level ten you have to be confident in what you do because you are essentially the player that makes the whole team tick. At first five-eight you call the shots and make crucial decisions and place the team in the right areas of the field, whether it’s through running, passing or kicking. The flyhalf is pivotal to the functioning of the team at large.
Sport24 asked: Heyneke Meyer has selected Handre Pollard in his starting side. Your take?
Carlos Spencer: Hats off to Meyer. While it’s certainly a bold move, I believe it’s the right one. There’s only one way to find out if Pollard can handle the pressure and that’s by throwing him in against the All Blacks – a side in a league of their own. Pollard is the future of South African flyhalf play and, as such, must be afforded the opportunity to prove himself. While Saturday in Wellington will probably prove the toughest game of his career, I think that he deserves an extended run in the side. It’s pointless picking him to start against the All Blacks away from home and then returning to Morne Steyn for the following Test. My message is simple: Give Pollard time and he will grow.
Sport24 asked: The Boks have not beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand for five years. Why?
Carlos Spencer: You just have to look at their record in recent times to see that they have the mental edge over the Springboks. Having not beaten the All Blacks on their home patch since 2009, I believe the Boks instantly find themselves on the back foot. The current New Zealand side is comprised of superstars of the game today. They have an inner-belief and desire to continually evolve as a unit. However, that doesn’t mean failure does not cross your mind as an individual and as a collective. From my time as an All Black, fear of failure drove us on to perform and be the best we could be.
Sport24 asked: Ex-Wallaby Greg Martin once called for the Haka to be banned, as he suggested it affords the All Blacks an “unfair advantage.” Having led the Haka, what is your reaction?
Carlos Spencer: If they ever got rid of the Haka it would be a great shame not only for the players themselves but for the public as well. The crowd really get into it at the game and fans around the world love experiencing it. It was a real honour performing the Haka for the first time and when I was afforded the privilege of leading it, it was another step up. I don’t necessarily agree that it offers an unfair advantage, as some opponents I spoke to remarked that it actually served as motivation.
Sport24 asked: Steve Hansen has said that if he had his way he would “rip up the rule book and write another one.” Do you share his frustrations?
Carlos Spencer: I think that comment’s quite fair. We are struggling with the rules we’ve got at the moment. Each season, we complain about refereeing inconsistency and law interpretation. For a professional coach, inconsistency in terms of law application is frustrating more than anything because as a team you work tirelessly during the week to come up with plans to attack the opposition in certain situations and then you get done in. While refereeing is not an easy profession, all we are calling for is uniformity across the board. If elected chairperson of the IRB, one rule I would change straight away would be the maul. The forwards love it owing to the physical challenge. However, teams today are creating the maul to milk a free kick or penalty. I believe a maul should only be used to create an attacking opportunity, and if formed for the wrong reasons, I say scrap it altogether.
Sport24 asked: Please offer a prediction and where you believe the match will be decided.
Carlos Spencer: I’m predicting an All Black win by 15 points or more. I believe they will prosper by keeping hold of the ball and playing in the right areas of the pitch. Provided the All Blacks match the Springboks physically and at the set-pieces, I foresee them finishing off the opportunities they will create. The home side possess game-breakers in their side that can pierce the Springboks’ defence. Unfortunately for South Africa, New Zealand will have to have an off day if they are to be beaten. On current form and with strength in depth in all positions, I just don’t see that happening on Saturday.
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