Smal shake-up - 5 good things

Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Following last week’s “papering over the cracks” missive, where I suggested the wrong people at the WPRU were appearing on the back pages, it was interesting to note that Gert Smal’s appointment as Director of Rugby was made by Thelo Wakefield, president of the WPRU, the body responsible for the amateur side of the game, rather than Rob Wagner, CEO of WP Rugby Pty (Ltd), the body responsible for the professional side of the game.

Very different to what is going down in Durban, where CEO John Smit is quite clearly the man in charge, and the man fronting the media. Until Jake White pisses off president Graham Mackenzie even more by insisting the Sharks players be spread evenly across the clubs, and play more regularly for them, that is, but that is a story for another column...

I remain suitably unconvinced that any real good will come out of the Western Cape until the current structure that sees a president focusing on getting votes from 90 odd clubs rather than actual rugby matters changes, but nobody likes a lemon sucking nay-sayer, so perhaps a look at the good things that I believe have come with the Smal appointment.

Firstly – they have got the job description right. Smal’s role at WP will see him head up rugby matters across the union, with the senior professional coaches, junior professional coaches and WP Rugby Institute management team all reporting in to him. It is not a hands-on coaching position, but one that encompasses a strategic rugby role - from the juniors right up until the senior professional teams.

Secondly – they have a seriously good man in Smal. A WP Rugby man through and through, powered by honesty, integrity and a sense of thoughtfulness that will not come with any knee jerk reactions. His coaching CV is not half bad either. Currie Cup wins with WP in 2000 and 2001 and a Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders in 2004. Two stints with the Boks, the second of which saw him serve as an assistant coach to White when the team tasted Tri-Nations (2004) and Rugby World Cup (2007) success. A five-year stint with Ireland, under Declan Kidney, which saw them winning the Six Nations (and Grand Slam & Triple Crown) in 2009 and finishing top of their pool at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. He has experience, and with that, confidence.

Thirdly – Smal is speaking the right language: "I want to create an environment here that gives all players a deep and lasting career desire to play their rugby in the Western Province. We are producing young talent and we're producing new Springboks too. Part of my role here will be to ensure that I build on that base”, said Smal. But perhaps most importantly, given the dearth of any real excitement or attacking flair in South African rugby, especially from the men in blue and white, Smal said "I would like to see us play a typical WP/Stormers brand of rugby. I want to see players express themselves."

Fourthly – the appointment serves as a proper wake up call for all of Alistair Coetzee, Matthew Proudfoot and Robbie Fleck. Their reactions will tell us a lot about them as people.

And fifthly – we get to see a new coach in action. Part of the shake-up sees ex-Ikeys and current WP Under-20 and Vodacom Cup coach, John Dobson, coach the WP side in this year’s Currie Cup. Dobson took UCT to a new level in 2009 and 2010, and played a big part in their Varsity Cup victory in 2011. His record at Under-20 and Vodacom Cup level is outstanding. He is a coach that understands individual player needs, the team dynamic, and that much underestimated value that has seen the Lions do so well this year, “Gees”. He joins Smal as another “good rugby man”.

If the above is part of Thelo Wakefield’s vision, then good on him. Perhaps his CEO has not been strong enough to make the big calls? Or perhaps not given the power to make the big calls? Either way, with this on field shake up, must also come an administrative/structural shake up.

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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