It has been many years now since the style and skill displayed on a South African rugby field has been pleasing on the eye. Don’t get me wrong the emotion of a great win and the glory two World Cups have given has been awesome. But deep down all of us watch rugby to watch the skill of a backline as it swings the ball wide at pace to score in the corner. It’s been many years now that the “motto of the Springboks” does not apply. If you don’t know the changeroom song the Boks sing after a match when they happy with a great win. “The Springbok boys are happy The Springbok boys are we We never never quarrel We never disagree For the motto of the Springboks Is come and drink with me The? motto of the Springboks Is have a drink with me The forwards made a scrum The halfback put it in The halfback to the centre The centre to the wing The wing scored a try The All-Blacks started to cry Hoorah, Hoorah for we can sing and play For we can sing and play.” It was always a passion for the Boks to run the ball and score tries. Over 20 years of international rugby our coaching staff have managed to suffocate talent and reduce them into drones that obey every command the coaches that hold their careers with.
We all know that flair wins Superrugby, Tri-Nations and now rugby Championship trophies, while defence wins you World Cups. I appreciate the ability to win World Cups, it was something the All Blacks struggled with for 20 years while we raked in two of them since our re-admission. The high paced passing game versus the all too familiar kicking game. Kick and hope that the opposition is too ill equipped to deal with the ball or that you have placed it well enough that there is a lineout opportunity close to the opposition try line. In 2010 this game-plan was used to perfection against the Touring British Lions and in the Tri-Nations. Needless to say the IRB and its rules officials “Paddy O’Brian” saw this as a threat to World Cup glory for the All Blacks and implemented a new rule with respect to the high Ball. But this does not work anymore as the offside line has been moved 10m backwards and our forwards cannot be in a position to affect any pressure that equals the intensity experienced by opposition teams in 2010.
The expansive game was the recipe for success. The Springbok backlines of the 80’s only needed 40% ball to win a match. We scored tries by the fist full. I can’t remember many matches where we were outscored in the try department. Naas Botha employed his skilful kicking game for the “Blue Bulls” but in the Green and Gold he used his impressive backline who I would almost rate as the best combination ever! Garth Wright, Naas Botha, Michael du Plessis, Danie Gerber, Carel du Plessis, Jaco Reinach and Johan Heunis. You would put Ray Mordt on the right wing and Andre Joubert at Fullback for perfection. But it remains the best combination in History with the ’81 touring team of New Zealand. The fact remains that we won more matches in the history of Bok rugby with simple expansive game-plan. The late William Pollock "Bill" McLaren (Scottish and BBC commentator) spoke of Springboks in awe. He said we had massive forwards that handled the ball and ran like backs. That’s our history massive pack of forwards with big strong fast running backs.
We have changed this over 20 years to a pack of forwards, kicking flyhalves and chasers. The blueprint has been modified. And this is the problem the modification has come because of the fear of losing. Our school boys are coached without the fear of losing and play free expansive games. Every Saturday we have not been dished up “Rugby van die boonste Rakke” to coin a phrase from our 80’s Afrikaans commentators. Superrugby coaching takes a young talent and removes his ability to believe in his skill and his coaching that has elevated him to the top where is when selected to be a part of his Superrugby franchise. They force the individuals to accept and buy into the coaching staffs vision and game-plan or else!
When I was in school the likes of Basel Bey (Bishops), Richard and Hannes Visagie (Paarl boys High), Frikkie van Zyl and Pine Pienaar (Paarl Gim), Frans van Niekerk and Jacques Hanekom (Paul Roos Gim), Dries vd Wahl and Jaco Swanepoel (Grey Bloem), Peter Broster and Spencer King (Rondebosch) these were all outstanding coaches who’s teams played expansive rugby. Although I was blinkered down in the Cape with the schools rugby, we always watched Grey Bloem when they played any of our local opposition. We watched WP who was coached by Dawie Snyman and they were expansive and it was the only way to play. Five consecutive Curriecups from 1982-86 was the proof in that pudding, including being in every final except 1987 for a decade. Funny enough that was Carel du Plessis’s year working for Toyota in Transvaal and he ran out for them in CurrieCup final and losing.
I have had the pleasure of watching High school rugby the last few years. Today’s Schools coaches have employed successful expansive game-plans with the structure of good forward play as a platform to launch from. We have been treated to many of these matches on television. The excitement of the new rankings that Rugby 365 and Schools Rugby has adopted has increased the interest in schools rugby. Teams travel the country far and wide to play other top schools and in tournaments like Easter festivals and WilderKlawer. International schools have been invited over and found SA Schools rugby a harsh environment and have been summarily dismissed to large defeat margins.
This year we has seen these coaches: Elmo Wolfaardt and Gerrie Visser (Paarl Boys), Greg Hassenkamp and Mike Housdon (Affies), Christoff Lotter and Hendrik Weber (Paarl Gim) Ingo Machts (Grey Bloem), Piet Cloete and Jacques Wolfaardt (Outeniqua) and Thys Stolz and Hanno Smit (PRG) have been part of the highlights of the year. Even Naas Botha has joined the fray to coach Waterkloof this year. Top 25 schools have been very close matches. These coaches don’t have the luxury of going out and hand picking players they would like in their teams. They have 60 or so boys in the age group and they have to mould them into the units that play rugby. Which is like poetry from the heart, not programmed machines.
My opinion is that too much emphasis has been placed on previous life as a rugby player in your coaching pedigree. There are those who have moved through the ranks as coaches but have become stagnant in their ability to coach rugby and rely on a no-risk format. The Stormers year as a team is perfect example of a no-risk game-plan. Strongly relies on it’s ability defend it’s line and stop play. Defensive lines are a given but your major play has to be around trying to create space to score tries.
I would be very interested to see the value of a schools coach employed by a Union and then for the Boks. Even Naas Botha has said that he has taken on the Waterkloof position as a stepping stone for the future of rugby. The ability to coach individuals that have been given to you, instead of hand picking your personal choice must surely enhance your skills as a coach. I am sure many of these men will be able to successfully contribute to any union with freedom of choice with respect to players available in the country. Maybe it is time to take a chance and see what they are capable of!
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