Cape Town - Former Springbok Sevens, Griquas, Lions and Cheetahs loose forward Jonathan Mokuena has enjoyed a dream start to his coaching career.
In his debut Varsity Cup campaign with Pukke, he steered North West University to a tournament-winning run, which included a nail-biting 7-6 win over Maties during the final in Stellenbosch. He also took over the reins at the Leopards, who were impressive during the Currie Cup First Division campaign.
The 35-year-old says he’s gained a lot from these experiences and was pleased in the way the players reacted to his coaching philosophies.
“The reason why I went into coaching is because I have a big passion when it comes to people. I want to motivate those around me and help them become the best versions of themselves. So going into coaching was a natural transition for me,” Mokuena told MyPlayers.
“I want to make a big impact on the teams I coach… the kind of impact that will see my players play their hearts out. I really appreciated the opportunities I’ve received this season, which has given me great experiences.
“The Varsity Cup was a tough competition. There was a tough game every week. The entire tournament, especially the final, was a rollercoaster ride, but it was great how the players pulled through.
“The Currie Cup First Division is not as intense as the Varsity Cup, but it’s a great learning curve for me as a young coach. I inherited a good squad and assistant coaches. They bought into my game plan and I used some of the existing structures that were in place. That balanced approach worked really well.”
Many would describe Mokuena’s coaching career as an “overnight success”. However, the 35-year-old stressed that his previous experiences have contributed to his growth as a coach.
“Looking back, I wanted to play a few more years before I retired. However, I never got the playing opportunities that I wanted,” said Mokuena. “At that time, I was recently married. Once you have a family to consider, your priorities change.
“During my final years as a professional player, I took some time out to coach at a local school, which taught me some basics. I also worked as a medical representatives for three years, which saw me spend a lot of time with people. I worked in different environments, like surgeries and offices, which was great as I got to interact with different personalities.
“When I started coaching the University of Johannesburg and Golden Lions sevens sides, that’s when opportunities came my way. I remember getting a call from Dawie Theron, who asked me to join the Junior Springboks squad as a team manager.”
“Many professional players don’t realise that once you retire, you have to start from the bottom again. You need to prove your worth by working your way up - just like you did in rugby,” said Mokuena.
“I took the team manager role for the opportunity to learn from good coaches. I also got to see how things worked behind the scenes at international level, which taught me a lot. I had a great time with the Junior Springboks.”
So where to next for Mokuena, who is now touted as one of the brightest young coaches in South Africa?
“In the short term, I want to make an impact on the provincial scene during the Currie Cup,” explained Mokuena. “In the long term, I want to be part of a Super Rugby management. And after gaining the necessary experience, I want to earn the opportunity to coach one of the South African national teams. That would be a dream come true.”
For more exclusive player content, check out MyPlayers.co.za