Time for a little culture

Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
“Players are just custodians of the jerseys and by the time they leave, their aim must have been to make the club or franchise a better place than when they arrived”

So says former Crusaders and All Black hooker, and current Hurricanes coach, Mark Hammett, who was in conversation with Matt Pearce at a Bishops rugby supporter’s club event that I attended this week.

In town to take on the Stormers on Friday evening (kick-off at 19:10) after a gutsy and character filled loss to an incredibly physical Sharks side last weekend, Hammett is all about creating a culture or “vibe” among his squad.

The 'Canes coach believes that at its heart, rugby remains a pretty simple game, and that coaching is about giving players the "Why" instead of the "Just do this or that". A philosophy which obviously presumes a level of intelligence amongst said group of players!

Apart from the central contracting - something Hammett believes to be a key strength of New Zealand rugby - perhaps this is one of the fundamental differences between ourselves and the Kiwis? Do South African coaches allow our players to really think about the game, and in the process focus on the “Why”, or are a lot of them still in “Do this, do that” mode? 

Apart from the obvious practical benefits of a salary cap and central contracting, having both players and coaches contracted to the NZRU encourages coaches to share their knowledge, and brings the players closer together given that they all play for a greater common good.

“The players are pretty tight as a result of the central contracting”, says Hammett, who believes “New Zealand rugby would go backwards” if they were to give it up.

It does go hand in hand with the non-selection of overseas based players for the All Blacks, though … And perhaps these two core ingredients are the key to a rugby culture that has seen the All Blacks edge the Boks in a rivalry that must be one of the greatest in all sport?

Create rituals says Hammett - people love them and make them want to belong … Don’t be scared to start a tradition now - It may be new today, but it will be an old one when you die!

Good old amateur era stuff, but in a modern professional structure.

Closer to home, perhaps this is where the Bulls and Stormers are going wrong?

An incredible start to the tournament by the Lions … Perhaps a wonderful indication that even in today’s professional era, a culture of “Heart, guts and playing for the jersey” actually counts for something? A new broom in Durban has swept in a defined culture that openly mimics the very professional set up at Saracens that sees players given proper responsibility.

While in Bloemfontein it is about playing a unique and entertaining brand of rugby that looks to utilise the width of the field with ball in hand.

While the once great Bulls and Stormers seem to be floundering in this space … Having lost a whole heap of players to foreign currency, the re-introduction of the walkie talkie using, bench sitting Victor Matfield looks a little desperate and backward by the Bulls. And in Cape Town the Stormers, who will always be hamstrung by the amateur era constitution that sees the president focussing on getting elected by the 91 clubs rather than the rugby, seem to have fallen into the definition of madness trap that sees them doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different result!

Perhaps these two legendary pillars of South African rugby need a complete overhaul? One that looks to future proof their structures in a professional era while keeping some of the amateur era traditions, and swoon, creating some new ones!  

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

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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