Cape Town - Former Springbok, Cheetahs and Stormers hooker Tiaan Liebenberg is looking forward to life as a head coach as he takes charge of the CUT Ixias during this year’s Varsity Cup.
While the Varsity Cup has been a stepping stone to senior professional rugby for many of South Africa’s top young talent, including the likes of Demetri Catrakilis, Nic Groom, Juan de Jongh, Dries Swanepoel, Clayton Blommetjies and more, the tournament has also seen a number of former players showcasing their pedigree as young rugby coaches.
Former Springbok flyhalf Franco Smith and former Springbok Sevens forward Jonathan Mokuena both won the Varsity Cup title during their first season of coaching Shimlas (Free State University) in 2015 and Pukke (North West University) in 2016 respectively.
Now Tiaan Liebenberg is the latest former player to enter the world of coaching in the Varsity Cup as he leads CUT this season. He’s had stints as the CUT and Free State U19s forward coach, but it will be his first run as head coach. The 35-year-old said it was a natural transition after playing his final match for the Free State Cheetahs during the Currie Cup qualifiers in 2016.
“I wasn’t sure of going into coaching when I first retired. It’s an opportunity that was presented to me and I’m making the most of it,” Liebenberg tells MyPlayers. “When I was recovering from a serious back injury, I did my rehab with Jan du Toit from CUT. In exchange, I would coach the team’s forwards that year.
“With CUT competing in the Varsity Cup, I was offered the opportunity to become head coach. I see it as a great chance for me to experience coaching at a high level. I believe the Varsity Cup is a very competitive tournament, with very high standards. Considering I’m still very new to coaching, this will be a great experience for me.”
Liebenberg will continue his role at his family’s logistics business in Bloemfontein, but will dedicate the time to his coaching commitments at CUT. He believes he can set the ideal balance to do well in both fields.
“I’m lucky that I have a good supportive system around me. My family are excited about my coaching role and are willing to give me enough time for training and matches,” explained Liebenberg. “It all has to do with time management. This is something which many young players struggle with, especially those who have to juggle class, rugby, studies and exams, so I hope to set a good example.
“I have two sons, but now I feel like I have 50 since taking over the CUT squad. I want to inspire them to be the best versions of themselves. Not only on the field, but more so off the field. You can coach any player to be skilled, but it takes a special coach to encourage a player to put in his best effort for the team week in and week out.
“That’s the kind of coach Rassie Erasmus is... as a player, you want to give him your all. I hope to inspire my players in the same way.”
Looking ahead to the 2017 Varsity Cup, Liebenberg hopes to make a good impact as coach. CUT play their first fixture against UCT in Cape Town on February 6.
“Guys like Franco and Jonathan have set the benchmark very high after winning the Varsity Cup during their first seasons! However, I have realistic goals in place. CUT are not as established as Shimlas and Pukke, but we are not here just to compete,” said Liebenberg.
“I first want to inspire my players to reach their full potential. We also hope to earn successful results during the season. We want to tick all the right boxes as the tournament progresses.”
For more exclusive player content, check out MyPlayers.co.za