Mind Games: Smal must know what he’s letting himself in for

2014-04-06 14:00

It is difficult to think of Gert Smal, the big former Springbok flank forward who has returned to Newlands as Western Province’s director of rugby, without recalling – the punch.

Soon after it was announced that Smal was returning for a second spell in a senior coaching role with Western Province/Stormers, I searched for the incident on YouTube and it popped up immediately.

The game was the Springboks against the NZ Cavaliers at Ellis Park in 1986. Gary Knight pulled out of a maul and appeared to swing a blow at Smal.

The Springbok rocked back and unleashed a tremendous right hand over the top of the stocky prop’s swinging arm that exploded on his jaw and sent him ­crumbling to the ground like an ­imploding building.

In one of the first instances of the use of the sin bin, Welsh referee Ken ­Rowlands sent both miscreants to “cool off” for 10 minutes, providing the ­amusing sight of Smal fidgeting on the spot to get back into action while alongside him Knight swayed like a drunk ­after a night on the town.

Although Smal has the features of a prizefighter, he is in fact quietly spoken, studious and media shy. But he may have to rekindle those counterpunching instincts in his new position.

The problem with Province/Stormers rugby is not the personnel in their teams or coaching positions but the deeply flawed and unproductive way rugby is run in the province.

Current coach Allister Coetzee, who with Smal was one of Jake White’s assistants in the campaign that ended in victory at the World Cup in 2007, has taken a beating in the media and social ­platforms recently. Smal’s return is being touted as the move that will bring about glorious change.

“In January this year, we took the decision to become a high-performance organisation,” was Western Province Rugby Football Union president Thelo Wakefield’s odd way of putting it when announcing Smal’s appointment.

Certainly, Western Province, with its two top-flight universities and a plethora of schools who play high-quality rugby underperforms in the competitions it contests.

This failure has been pinned on the playing and coaching component of the union without pointing fingers at the administrators themselves.

Nick Mallett and Rassie Erasmus, outstanding coaches from disparate backgrounds, have previously taken the job and resigned in frustration.

Both talked of a lack of autonomy, too much interference and the difficulty of getting decisions made quickly.

Both said that WP’s top-heavy structure and its administration, shot through with personal agendas, made it impossible to run a professional sports team.

With more than 60 clubs and the equivalent number of presidents, the key order of business tends to be parking, stands and reception tickets rather than what has to be done to make the team the best.

Included in this mix are deep animosities and jealousies. And the upshot is that the coaches find it difficult to get their job done.

Smal has been there before, so he knows what he’s letting himself in for, but unless the structure is fixed, it is difficult to see him working the expected miracle.

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