Sport24 asked: From coaching the Bok backline to Pretoria Boys’ High. Has it been difficult?
Ricardo Loubscher: The adjustment has been tough because SA Rugby invested 19 years in me as both a player and coach. I feel that I can still make a difference and add value at the highest level. And, to be honest, I was really disappointed not to be offered a contract extension by SA Rugby. It was ultimately their decision to go in a different direction in terms of the coaching staff, but how can you throw away someone with 47 Test matches worth of experience? In hindsight, there were certain things that I could have done better, but I definitely improved as a coach in terms of man-management, people skills and overall knowledge. I’m currently assisting Pretoria Boys’ High under-14 team during the week, which has allowed me to stay in the coaching loop. Coaching at a high level in SA remains first prize, but I’m also realistic. At present, I’m shopping around and looking at Japan and the UK as potential coaching destinations. As a coach, it’s all about expanding your territory.
Sport24 asked: The Boks have been berated for lacking an attacking edge. Your opinion?
Ricardo Loubscher: I definitely disagree with the perception that our attack lacked penetration during my coaching tenure with the Springboks. Over four years and 47 Test matches, we scored 141 tries and of those the backs scored 93 tries, which equates to 66%. Under my watch as Springbok backline coach, Cornal Hendricks and Francois Hougaard were nominated for IRB World Try of the Year and Willie le Roux was nominated for the World Player of the Year award. Allister Coetzee has mentioned that one of the areas he definitely wants to focus on is the attack. For me, that is a positive because as we have seen in Super Rugby the coaches are encouraging a more ball-in-hand approach, and a number of South African teams are playing in the wider channels. It proves that our players possess the skills to play a more enterprising brand of rugby. However, supporters must understand that attack takes time to evolve and they will need to be patient with the Boks. Allister was renowned for a territory-based, defence-driven game plan when at the Stormers, but he’ll encourage an attacking mindset at national level given time to work with the players at his disposal. Allister will obviously want to put his stamp on things. However, at the start, the approach will be to stick to what has worked over the last four years and opt for continuity.
Sport24 asked: The five New Zealand franchises have collectively scored more tries (187) than SA’s six teams (160). What, in your view, makes the Kiwis more proficient on attack?
Ricardo Loubscher: If we take a look at Super Rugby, New Zealand sides are definitely the benchmark. It’s purely down their skill-set, conditioning and the intensity they play the game with. If you want to be the best, you have to make sure that you are on par with them. I’m of the opinion that we have some of the best playing talent in South Africa, but sometimes our skills are stifled owing to coaching philosophy. Some local coaches prefer to play a low-risk style of rugby and I believe that inhibits our players from fully expressing themselves on the field. As a coach, you must prescribe a game plan, but also allow your players to, at times, take creative licence and play what’s in front of them. The Lions are the pacesetters in South Africa when it comes to the trend of attacking rugby and they’ve shown it’s the way forward. However, I’m not suggesting that all-out attack is the solution. You have to strike a balance between when to kick and when to run. In Super Rugby, it’s all about letting the ball do the work and scoring tries, whereas Test match rugby is often more attritional. There is less time and space during Tests, and every facet of play is a real contest.
Sport24 asked: If we do a Super Rugby size comparison, New Zealand boast 21 backs who weigh in at 100kg, while Australia have 14 and SA 11. Does size matter in the oval game?
Ricardo Loubscher: Yes, size matters and in many ways Pumas legend Hugo Porta was correct in his assessment that rugby has now become a “war of muscles”. Nemani Nadolo, for instance, has made a big impact at Super Rugby level. He stands 1.96m tall and weighs 126kg. He has produced the second-most clean breaks and offloads in the competition. Rugby is a highly physical game but, for me, first prize goes to skill-set. Nadolo has a full bag of tricks and even kicks for goal, but not all big men are the all-round package. In South Africa, we are always going to have a problem with size of players, but x-factor is more important. Cheslin Kolbe, for example, is a special player and you need to combine his skills within your game plan. I’ve been watching him closely for two years and he has a big heart for someone who weighs 79kg and stands at 1.70m. He has shown that he’s a threat with and without the ball. If you give him half a gap, he’s gone. However, he has also been solid under the high ball and has made 33 tackles this season. He is not scared defensively and is unafraid to put his body on the line. He is certainly in the frame for national team selection.
Sport24 asked: Selecting foreign-based players is always a hot topic. Where do you stand?
Ricardo Loubscher: I have one foot on the sand and one foot in the sea because there is value in blending foreign-based players with home-grown talent. From my four years as Springbok assistant coach, I learned that the most important thing is to pick your best 23. You can’t, for argument’s sake, throw a group of young players into the Test arena and expect them to win matches for you. You need to find the perfect combination of youth, experience, home-grown and foreign-based players. However, if we take New Zealand as a case study, their policy is not to select foreign-based players and there is a reason for that. The reality is that you have more control of your players in terms of form and fitness when they are based within your borders. Allister is fortunate that he is sitting with a deep pool of players within South Africa, and over the next four years SA Rugby’s policy could change in terms of picking foreign-based players. It’s important to reward players who stay at home.
Sport24 asked: As an ex-player and coach of colour, what’s your take on transformation?
Ricardo Loubscher: I believe transformation should be a bottom-up approach, and you have to begin with the principle of merit in mind. At the end of the day, you only have so many players of colour from which to choose and, as such, I don’t believe that we should have prescribed transformation targets at national level. I maintain that the focus and starting point should be at schoolboy level. I’m fortunate to be involved with schools rugby at present and at places such as Pretoria Boys’ High, Jeppe and Dale College – the boys are selected purely on merit. We should invest our time, money and energy into the youth and afford equal opportunities from the start so that all players can follow the path to the top. I know it’s a really tough ask in our country, but at some point we need to separate politics and sport. Moreover, policy should not be enforced before all of the key stakeholders have been consulted. From a coaching perspective, you don’t want to get involved in politics. As a coach, your main priority is to prepare the team well each week in order to win matches.