Rugby coaching in SA - a little stability goes a long way

2018-08-05 06:02
Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Johannesburg - In the obligatory “illegal scrummaging” tit for tat ahead of the Super Rugby final between the Crusaders and the Lions in Christchurch yesterday, the home team sent Jason Ryan, their assistant forwards coach, to do their bidding.

An assistant forwards coach for a Super Rugby franchise? Even by their comprehensive coaching structures, an assistant forwards coach for what is essentially a provincial side sounds a little over the top.

But having been invited to a breakfast with their coaches last year, it isn’t hard to believe that, in New Zealand, even the assistant coaches have assistants because the table in that Johannesburg hotel was pretty long.

Of course, the Kiwis are probably taking the concept of leaving no stone unturned and taking care of every eventuality a little too far. But what is happening in South Africa can’t be good for the development of the game.

With the Super Rugby season drawing to a close yesterday, the positions of three of the four South African franchise coaches in that competition weren’t exactly secure.

The Lions’ Swys de Bruin had been linked with an assistant coach’s spot with the Springboks after being seconded to Rassie Erasmus’ staff for the test series against England in June.

But this was when it looked like every senior Lions player was looking for options out of Ellis Park, so the news that the likes of Warren Whiteley, Cyle Brink and Andries Coetzee are staying means he may well stay too.

John Mitchell has been front and centre in the news cycle of late because he temporarily forgot he wasn’t in the English Premier League by asking the Bulls for a R90 million transfer kitty before being linked with the defence coach position in Eddie Jones’ England team.

The amiable Robbie Fleck – thrust into his Stormers head coach job by the uncanny circumstances that saw Jones revealed as coach, only to be snatched up by big brother England a week later – is uncertain of keeping the gig next year after two years of iffy results, at best.

But, from a distance, it seems like his status as rugby’s good oke and his payout are getting in the way of the cash-strapped Western Province bosses pulling the trigger on what has been an underwhelming foray into Super Rugby coaching.

The only coach who appears to be safe in his position is Sharks coach Robert du Preez, he of the five-second soundbites and the family first approach to contracting and selection. Even by the coaches’ mantra of “you will be hired and you will be fired”, this kind of prevailing uncertainty is unhealthy for the South African game.

Mitchell worked without a defence coach throughout the Super Rugby tournament and it showed, while the Stormers had a convoluted set of responsibilities for their assistant coaches Paul Feeney and Paul Treu, which resulted in the latter supposedly walking out of a meeting in frustration.

Speaking of Treu, why is the first Blitzboks coach to crack the World Series code walking the tightrope between coaching defence from the 20th phase and attack from behind the try line when he should be head coach of a 15s side by now?

At PRO14 level, one gets the impression that there will always be a home for Franco Smith at the Cheetahs, while poor Deon Davids is welcome to the Southern Kings job because nobody else wants to drive that ambulance.

To make a point that has been made before, there doesn’t seem to be a coherent plan of what our coaches’ career paths are and why they’re coaching where they’re coaching – there’s a randomness that appears to underpin the decision making. Why else would there be talk about a lot of seasoned first-class coaches queuing up to replace Sean Erasmus at Paarl Boys High?

It’s not a bad idea that coaches with that experience want to coach at schoolboy level, but for them to choose the relative peace and quiet of school rugby instead of testing themselves at the highest level means there might be something wrong with working at said highest level.

While uncertainty is the only constant for coaches in their careers, too much of it filters its way down to the players and renders the whole system jittery.

Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa


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