Mind Games: Will too many coaches spoil the Boks’ broth?

2013-08-13 10:00

Kids watching the Springboks practise in Johannesburg last week could be forgiven for thinking the circus had come to town.

As the large group, dressed in Springbok kit, stepped out of their brightly branded bus, you could see the confusion in the expressions of the fans as they struggled to recognise some unfamiliar faces.

The reason for this was that head coach Heyneke Meyer has assembled a support group of coaches and other auxiliary staff so big that there’s almost a member of management for each member of the squad.

With Scotland’s Richie Gray, inventor of a contraption to assist players to improve their technique at the breakdown, having been added as the build-up to Saturday’s double-header at the FNB Stadium started, when the Boks will be in action alongside Bafana Bafana, one could not help but wonder how the players could cope with so much information being thrown at them.

Gone are the days of a coach with a whistle on a string controlling proceedings. These days the list of those with input is as follows:

»?Head coach: Heyneke Meyer

»?Manager: Ian Schwartz

»?Forwards coach: Johan van Graan

»?Backs coach: Ricardo Loubscher

»?Fitness coach: Basil Carzis

»?Defence coach: John McFarland

»?Scrum consultant: Pieter de Villiers

»?Kicking consultant: Louis Koen

»?Performance analyst: Chean Roux

»?Breakdown coach: Richie Gray

Add the team’s medical, public relations and logistics staff, and perhaps even some input from national high-performance coach Rassie Erasmus, and you get an idea of how many voices and opinions the players are subjected to.

There must be a danger of paralysis by analysis.

What with having to stand good for medical insurance on a player like Fourie du Preez, and possibly also some others as clubs kick against having to pay huge salaries only to have their players hurt on test match duty, it is clear that Meyer has gathered a massively expensive outfit with which to defend the country’s rugby honour.

Meyer himself cost Saru a pretty penny to extricate him from his contract with the Blue Bulls and this, added to the decision to bring back Du Preez after two seasons in the backwoods of Japan, has not gone down well with the provinces.

Most unions are strapped for cash, many are concerned about the style of play the Springboks have adopted, and there can be no doubt that acceding to the coach’s requests for more logistics rugby bosses would have demanded payback in performance on the field.

Meyer himself needs no reminding that the only gauge of success in professional sport is victory, and probably realises only too well that the forthcoming Rugby Championship (Australia play New Zealand in Sydney on Saturday morning and the Springboks will be up against Argentina in Soweto that afternoon) could be where he meets his Waterloo.

Victory will ease misgivings that he is on the right road in his preparation for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, but defeat could engender the kind of pressure that caused a number of his predecessors to buckle.

And, as always, those black jerseys of New Zealand lie ominously like a long, dark cloud on the horizon.

Since winning the Tri Nations in 2009, the Boks have come up against the All Blacks seven times and won just once – in Port Elizabeth in 2011.

At the FNB Stadium last year, they were comprehensively outplayed 32-16, and for Meyer and skipper Jean de Villiers the task is to reverse this trend.

The true test for a Springbok coach is to beat the All Blacks, but South Africa’s record against Australia’s Wallabies is also not much to write home about.

Since 2010 the Springboks have met the Wallabies eight times and won only twice – both times in Pretoria – while the last result against Argentina was a 16-all draw in Mendoza last year.

The message to Meyer from administrators and fans alike could not be clearer: it’s time for a return on our investment.

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