Johannesburg - There’s a must-read rugby analyst who goes by the pseudonym of Oom Rugby – nobody makes a complicated game simpler to understand.
In his most recent missive, he explained how the Cheetahs – in making their locks run beyond the vacuum at the back of the line-out, to take a long throw and playing off-the-top ball – were exploiting the laws so that their back line was starting the attack from the advantage line.
Another way in which the move works to the Cheetahs’ advantage, is that said line-out forward also finds a legal way to make an obstructive nuisance of himself in the opponents’ advancing defence once he’s completed his line-out duties.
This piece of ingenuity got me thinking of the right way to use Cheetahs coach Franco Smith in the Springbok team.
Having recently been announced as the team’s other backline coach along with Mzwandile Stick, Smith has made cautious noises about not being sure what his role is.
And while the end-of-year tour will no doubt be an audition of sorts, once the dust has settled, it would make sense to install the Currie Cup winner as the team’s backline coach and change the embattled Stick’s role to that of skills coach.
Exactly who does what in the coaching staff of an international rugby side has become difficult to put a finger on. For instance, how many people know that Johann van Graan, who’s always been recognised as a technical analyst and a forwards coach, is also the Boks’ attack coach?
A colleague explained the rationale as follows: Line-outs are the main source of first-phase tries in rugby and, for this reason, Van Graan, as line-out coach, takes over attack as the one spills over into the other. Interesting, no?
The reason for making Smith back line coach is to leave him to deal with the strategy or, if we want to get posh, the philosophy of how the backs will approach things in attack and defence.
Anyone who has seen how quickly the Cheetahs shift the ball away from the point of contact into space, and exploit this, would struggle to argue against that view. And looking at the improvement of individual Cheetahs backs such as Shaun Venter, Raymond Rhule, Francois Venter and the previously errant Clayton Blommetjies – and their combinations – this shouldn’t be a hard sell.
Smith, a former Bok fly half or centre who never became a household name but was widely respected for his knowledge of the game, exudes three qualities – humility, innovation and an ability to bring out the best in players.
While his fair to middling reputation as a player explains the humility and innovation aspects of his qualities, his tearing up when talking about the Cheetahs’ unsung heroes in the Currie Cup shows that he cares, which is handy when it comes to getting the best out of players.
And judging by the direction in which he decided to take the Cheetahs – most of whom were Shimlas players just 18 months ago – suggests he has no problem taking the path less travelled, something the Boks could use.
What of the inexperienced Stick, who many would have loved to see exit stage left along with defence coach Chean Roux? The response is: Why throw out the baby with the bathwater?
People forget that Stick captained the SA Sevens team to their only World Sevens Series title to date in 2009, and won the Currie Cup Under-19 title with a cash-strapped Eastern Province, beating the usually dominant Blue Bulls, Western Province and the Cheetahs to the trophy last year.
Clearly, he has ability. And as an outrageously skilful former sevens man – whose ideas as backline coach were possibly stifled by the confined spaces in 15-man rugby – he’ll be better used as a skills coach to deal with catching and passing, offloading, running lines and the like.
But merely installing him as a skills coach won’t be enough. He needs to be upskilled by being sent to the Australian Football League, the National Football League, the National Rugby League and the National Basketball Association. Apparently, that’s the way to learn passes.
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