Currie Cup

From beaches to Big Holes: Scott Mathie's 'interesting' journey to Griquas

Scott Mathie. (Facebook)
Scott Mathie. (Facebook)
  • Scott Mathie gave up a relatively comfortable gig at Durban High School to pursue a professional coaching career in Kimberley with Griquas, a journey that has forced him to adapt pronouncedly.
  • While the 37-year-old, who was promoted from assistant coach late last year, has not had a game in charge yet, his underdog philosophy fits in well with the needs of SA rugby's perennial overachievers.
  • Mathie gives great insights into life at a smaller union, particularly the act of having to juggle various roles.
  • Kimberley's lowly status in terms of excitement also means regular life in the town is based on embracing community, something that has proven valuable to Mathie's moulding and his players.

Scott Mathie and his wife, Leigh, were having dinner in Cape Town when she asked him a potentially awkward question.

Specifically, the lawyer turned teacher wanted know where her husband's coaching career was going.

Mathie - who represented the Bulls, Sharks, Leeds Carnegie, Sale and Kings as a halfback - had been doing well as a history teacher and director of rugby at Durban High School. 

The school had clambered its way back into the Top 20 in various school rugby rankings in 2017 and 2018, prompting the Sharks to employ its former player as head coach for their age-group teams.

"But I told her that I'd really like to coach professionally," Mathie told Sport24.

"The problem is that's it's so bloody hard to get in somewhere. I told her the reality is that you need to know someone who can vouch for you or give you an opportunity. The time frame was uncertain too. You had to prime yourself for only, and this is a big maybe, getting a call in two to four years."

Content that their future lay in Durban, Leigh asked him where he would be able to commence a coaching career at senior level.

"Somewhere in Gauteng."

Nelspruit and Kimberley were a few potential answers.

"If you go to Kimberley, you're going alone," was Leigh's emphatic retort to the possibility of moving to the Northern Cape.

Three days later, highly rated Sharks assistant coach Brent Janse van Rensburg - appointed Griquas' head coach for 2019 - rang Mathie up to ask him to become his right-hand man.

"My wife really loves me."

The Mathies were going to Kimberley.

Janse van Rensburg and Mathie, who crossed paths in Port Elizabeth, were wildly successful as a duo last year, especially when considering the inherent constraints when it comes to being a middle-tier union.

The Peacock Blues won the SuperSport Rugby Challenge and reached the semifinals of the Currie Cup.

But Janse van Rensburg's increasing prominence - in 2018 he guided the Pumas to the SuperSport Rugby Challenge title - saw him take up a position at Eduard Coetzee and Sean Everitt's revolution at the Sharks.

That left Mathie in charge for 2020.

Covid-19 means that he has yet to experience the thrill of a first game in charge - the running joke at Tafel Lager Park is that he is still unbeaten after eight months - but there is little doubt at the union it has the right man for the job.

"I'd like to think that I'm a good fit here. My whole philosophy centres on being the underdog. There's a sincerity about the way you do things then," said Mathie.

"Griquas is a team that always punches above its weight. It means that everyone involved has something to prove. And when that's the case, you get more out of everyone."

That might come across as a wholesome, proverbial back-to-basics outlook, a perception reinforced by the praise Griquas received last year for how well-drilled they looked on the field.

In practice, life at a smaller union is far more complicated than that. 

Armed with a salary cap of just R16 million (compared to the R60 million that the "Top Five" are allowed) and limited exposure except in an already waning Currie Cup, coaching actually tends to take a backseat.

Those types of finances mean the union can only employ one assistant coach in Albert van den Berg, a high performance head in Jacques du Toit and performance analyst Benedict Chanakira.

There are two additional members of the medical team. 

"I'm really not kidding when I tell you that on-field coaching only takes up about 20% of my time," said Mathie.

"About 80% is spent on contracting and analysis. Being a head coach at a team like this really is a all-encompassing role. You have to wear many hats. I'm not saying coaching isn't important, but we don't have the luxury of being able to solely focus on it.

"We need to analyse recruits because we need to investigate backgrounds. In our financial position, you need to make sure most of the players you get are going to fit in. It's a helluva thing. You learn about your customers, who are sensitive and need guidance, who are the guys that thrive on honest opinion.

"There are so many variables. You even try and determine which players you can cultivate some form of loyalty from by loaning them to places like Russia and the US, to go and enrich their understanding of the game. It's also a way to put less pressure on the finances for a few months or give another player an opportunity."

However, even if a coaching "quota" of 20% sounds low, Griquas has the benefit of operating in an environment where, for the majority of your days, you need to live and breathe rugby.

"Look, I miss the beach. I'm a keen surfer, so it breaks my soul a bit at times to be in the Karoo," said Mathie.

"Kimberley doesn't have many attractions. If you're going to tell yourself to do things, you're going to have to make it happen yourself."

Thankfully, Mathie, who completed a BA in English and History at Leeds Metropolitan, can appreciate a town steeped in nostalgia with historical sites such as the Big Hole, the McGregor Museum, the Lodge and Halfway House.

"I'm a bit of a buff in that regard, so it's quite cool. But my feelings are a bit mixed. It's nice to be close to these sites and experience them, but you also get the feeling that for all its historical value, it hasn't been looked after as well as it should," he said.

For those less inclined to actively studying the past, the key to adapting is simple but nonetheless onerous: you have to embrace the community.

"Broadly speaking, it's really all you have when you dig in here," said Mathie.

"You spend your days in the company of others, getting together and rotating the responsibility of who's hosting the braai. Some of the guys will also go hunting together in the vicinity.

"It's a slice of life that takes getting used to. You won't cope if you come here with a city-orientated mindset. You have to embrace that you'll spend a lot of time in the company of others. To me it's been valuable. It's about appreciating those around you and your community.

"More importantly, I think that's why the rugby-related things we do here are also successful."

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