Out-of-the-box ideas needed in SA Rugby

Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Simnikiwe Xabanisa

In the mad rush to identify what’s eating the national rugby team, it was hardly illuminating that some of the answers that made the most sense came from predictable sources.

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett and former Bok centre Brendan Venter, in their capacities as pundit and guest on the SuperSport rugby show TMO this week, did a far better job of explaining Allister Coetzee’s predicament than we keyboard warriors ever could.

While their prescription of what needs to be done made for enthralling viewing, the platform from which they were dispensing their pearls of wisdom tells you everything that isn’t quite functioning about South African rugby.

Sure, the two seem content to do the bulk of their coaching by newspaper column (Venter) and from the Randburg studios (Mallett) these days, but why has SA Rugby not ensured that their input is going directly into some Bok think-tank before it finds its way to television?

If we agree on anything, it is that the Bok coaching team has, in addition to being shrunk, been juniorised to the point where Coetzee doesn’t have wise heads to turn to on matters pertaining to turning his side’s fortunes around.

This means there at least needs to be a system in place where Coetzee can look for answers outside of his assistants, whose composition still looks like a bit of an afterthought.

But we’ve excommunicated and exported so many of our ex-coaches there’s a gaping hole in the box marked “wise old heads”.

Jake White is prickly, but few have better ideas on building teams than he does.

Mallett is blunt but he knows how to turn around an underperforming team.

Venter is regarded as abrasive and known for not suffering fools gladly. But that’s because he’s no fool himself and his mind has never seen the inside of a box.

I know I’ll be laughed out of town for this, but Heyneke Meyer is another one we can turn to.

While the hot seat appeared to promote a meltdown in Meyer on Bok coach cam during his tenure, his HR background and the fact that he scripted the blueprint to the Bulls’ dynasty of the 2000s means he could do a job tinkering with structures in some darkened room at SA Rugby.

Even the often maligned Peter de Villiers – who was uncharitably described by Mallett as “Old Moustache” during the show despite having been one of his assistants in 1997 – has a contribution to make.

Forget the outrageous made for T-shirt one-liners, the former Bok coach did a fine line in man management in easily one of the most pressured environments in SA sport. His teams also won two of the three matches won in New Zealand by SA since readmission.

Put simply, all these ex-coaches never got an exit interview, and getting them together to talk about their experiences and how they dealt with pressure might give Coetzee an idea of how to deal with his travails.

Even more important is their input on the technical direction the Boks should be going in, given that recent methods seem only to be good enough for a competitive team as opposed to a consistently victorious one.

Better yet, it’s time a forum decided what the Bok culture should be.

One gets the impression that in the past, every new coach came in and started a culture of his own when he should have been walking into and conforming to an existing one.

There is also a role for the Super Rugby coaches to play, given how differently all their teams play.

The Lions have their dynamic rugby, the Stormers had their infamous “red sessions” a couple of seasons ago, and the Sharks had their “test match Tuesdays” defence sessions this year, so they should all be given an opportunity to sell those ideas to the Boks.

The good thing about the show on which Venter and Mallett appeared this week was that the former suggested the idea of a forum to discuss the way forward for the Boks. Whether the powers that be will pick up on it is another story altogether.

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