Rugby union is the best sport in the world! I guess I did not have to tell you that as those who will read this column will know it already.
How is it then that union, as a global sport, is so far behind the trend-setters? And no, the fact that the Rugby World Cup is the third most watched global sporting event does not change this, the fact is union is the sport of choice (most watched or followed) arguably in one country in the world only, New Zealand.
Some comments from individuals who are regarded as the leading experts in union has again re-affirmed that those who run the game, or has the power to change the game, are stuck in an archaic mindset.
One individual has everyone in the game talking at the moment, you know who I am talking about don’t you? Mr. Sonny Bill Williams.
There is no doubt that just about every single person that has anything to do with the game of rugby either as a commentator, coach, player or just a follower, is in absolute awe of the man. From parents encouraging their kids to do ‘Sonny-Bill’s’ (off-loads in the tackle) to journalists literally salivating all over their keyboards when they write something about him.
I am not sure if I am just stupid and have no clue what I am talking about, or if the ‘hype’ surrounding the player is as simple as a player that has broken the norm in his approach (more by accident than anything else), and because of that has everyone deluded just to what he is all about.
Sonny Bill himself probably sits back and thinks to himself; ‘What are all these damn fools on about? I am just doing what is natural to me!’
Perhaps allow me to explain.
A comment from a leading rugby expert and legend within the game of South Africa recently mentioned on one of these Rugby Magazine shows on television that he believes that the 15 players you pick to run onto the field should be the best 15 guys, and the 7 left on the bench should only be used if completely necessary (in other words if one of the first 15 gets injured).
Am I the only person on this planet that thinks that this statement is absolutely absurd? It seemed like it because his two in-studio guests all agreed with him (both Rugby World Cup winners no-less).
How, given the shifts the game of rugby has made globally since the start of professionalism, can we still not have the leading minds of the game accept that rugby is a 22-man game, played for 85 minutes? And if they cannot accept it, is it so surprising that our coaches still don’t get this or accept this and ultimately, neither do our players?
Not only do you have to coach, plan and strategize for a game today using all 22 players afforded to you to get maximum return from each individual and a massive advantage over your opponents on game-day, you have to ensure that you have at least 35 to 40 individuals in a squad system good enough to be called into a so-called ‘starting 15’ position on a 12-hour notice!
Which brings me back to Sonny Bill Williams…
Is this guys awesome? Damn straight he is! Is he a rugby phenomenon the likes of who we will see once in a lifetime? No, well yes…, if we continue to think about the game the same way we did 30 years ago, the Sonny Bill Williams’ of this world will come around once in a lifetime.
When I was first asked for my opinion on Williams a couple of weeks ago, I did not think he was anything special or phenomenal. What I did recognise is how he executes certain things on a rugby pitch with such brilliance, or better than anyone else, and does so consistently. You see I don’t think anything he does on a rugby field is groundbreaking or new, but why he does it so effectively is what caught my interest.
All of a sudden everyone wants Sonny Bill Williams clones, but has anyone actually asked WHY he is able to do what he does?
Firstly, recognise that Sonny Bill is a complete athlete, but being a complete athlete does not account for the ultimate product. We all know his background and influences, not only was he a league superstar, he is also a professional boxer.
In each sporting code you have different disciplines which are important if you are to succeed in them, more importantly in the context of this subject, it allows you to develop a specific skills sets which you would not normally develop if you had to practice just one of the codes and not all three like Williams has and still does.
Now I am not for one second suggesting send all rugby players on a league course or hand them a pair of boxing gloves, but what I am saying is that if you are to move forward, or stay ahead of the pack and develop the ultimate rugby player, you need to get your head out of your ass and realise the archaic mythologies we currently subscribe to is not good enough anymore.
Not only does a rugby team need a defense coach, they need a defense coach who is assisted by a contact expert.
Not only does a rugby team need an attack coach, they need an attack coach who is assisted by visualisation coach and experts in the field of biokinetics.
And I can carry on…
But what do most professional rugby teams have today? Well for some professional teams a dedicated defense coach alone is apparently a luxury…
I have no doubt Sonny Bill Williams’ ‘awesomeness’ is thanks to his development of specific skills no normal rugby player is currently exposed to, hence the fact he does what every rugby player has been doing for decades, he just does it differently, more effectively, and with greater consistency.
The one thing I will give Sonny Bill, is that he was an ‘accident’ that needed to happen in rugby union for some time now, and I can just hope that once we are all done wiping the saliva off our mouths admiring the exploits of this player on the rugby pitch, we will actually recognise the real reasons behind it.
But I fear listening to the leading rugby minds in South Africa currently, our own Sonny Bill’s are still some years away…