Brendan Venter is a very good appointment for the Springboks. It is an appointment to be applauded and the results will be immediate.
Don’t get in a huff and puff about the role (for now) being on a consultancy basis.
The South African Rugby Union has got this one right because in Venter they have given Springbok coach Allister Coetzee one of the game’s innovators and they’ve also added much needed rugby intellectual capital and coaching experience to what was an inexperienced and inept Test coaching team in 2016.
Don’t be deterred by Venter’s Italian rugby consultancy or the fact that he has other consultancies. He consults and his service is his rugby knowledge. How that gets used depends on whoever is the beneficiary of his consultancy.
Venter’s situation is different to most in international coaching. He prefers consulting and working with existing coaching teams in putting in place a philosophy and a structure. He has interests outside of professional rugby, most notably his medical practice.
Venter has in recent years made no secret that he needs the stimulation of his medical practice. He should be applauded for being up front about the balance he seeks as a person and also the very specific work service he provides to the game.
The most important thing for now is that Venter is involved with the Springboks. Too many very good rugby brains in this country are not utilised or consulted. Too many are given an outdated ultimatum that they must either commit full-time or not be a consideration.
Consultants have an invaluable role to play in Springbok rugby. It’s great to see this finally acknowledged and even better is that the consultant is home grown and home based. Country of origin or citizenship should never be an issue. If the individual is good enough then use that person.
But it is an advantage when that rugby consultant is a former Springbok, a World Cup winner and culturally understands every complex dynamic of South African rugby and South African society. It also is an advantage when that individual is strong willed, very opinionated and doesn’t suffer fools.
Venter isn’t a soft touch or a yes man. He doesn’t consult to be popular. There are those who find him too intense, too abrasive, too in their face.
Venter divides opinion and that’s because he is unconventional and refuses to stick around if he can see he is wasting his time.
Venter’s critics have accused him of doing a runner when the going gets tough, but I disagree. I believe he leaves when he feels he can add no value or the value he feels he can give is not maximised.
Venter aligned to Italy because of a long association at London Irish with Italian coach Connor O’Shea and it is unfair to want to condemn his value to the Italian team because of heavy defeats to the All Blacks and Ireland.
Venter’s philosophy and intent can also only be as good as the players with which he works, which is why I expect there to be immediate evidence of his influence when the Springboks play France.
Coetzee has spoken glowingly of Venter’s value and I sincerely hope that Coetzee doesn’t get spooked by Venter’s presence and doesn’t limit Venter’s role to that of defensive and exit area specialist. Venter can give so much more to Coetzee, especially as an advisor and sounding board when it comes to selection and strategy.
Venter had success as a player and coach in South Africa, but his coaching credentials were made with what he achieved at Saracens and his legacy is the strength of his succession planning at Saracens, who currently are the European and English champions.
Venter’s impact is that he can introduce systems and tutor and mentor others to continue to evolve these systems.
His role, for me, is bigger than the need to commit full-time with the Springboks. There was a discussion about the ethics and integrity of Venter working with the Boks now and potentially against them when Italy hosts the Boks in November. It is very unconventional but for now the Springboks can’t refuse his contribution because his ways are not the norm.
I’d much rather have Venter working with the Boks against France than working with France against the Boks. The same view applies in respect to any quality South African coaching brain.
I didn’t believe Coetzee was the right appointment as Bok coach and wrote that before he lost eight of 12 Tests in charge. My view on him as the head coach remains but credit to him and SARU for bringing in Venter, whose influence will ensure the Boks will win the series against France.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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