The general theme around the Stormers â€˜shockâ€™ exit from Super Rugby focusses on the type of game that they are playing, and have been playing all season (if not for 3 years running).Â Descriptors like one-trick ponies, defence orientated game plans or just plain boring rugby seems common in most post match analysis I have read so far â€“ but I disagree.
You do not fluke 14 out of 16 victories.Â You do not fluke a top of the table finish in the worldâ€™s toughest provincial competition.Â This Stormers team has got game, simple.
Coaching does play a part
That said, it is not to say coaching is not to blame if you look at this holistically.Â Talking to some people after the game on Saturday I made the comment that I believe in many ways this Stormers team is over-coached, and if those reading this article now shows the same blank expression to those present at the time let me try an explain.
When you see a team work their asses off to not only defend against a good attack, but turn possession over only for some knob to kick the ball away and give it right back to them, you know you are dealing with a humanoid who has absolutely no interest of playing outside a pre-determined structure.
There we no less than 8 occasions where opportunities presented itself to the Stormers where they made inexplicable, but quite obvious pre-determined tactical decisions.Â This Stormers team execute what is their game plan, and game tactics, with militant resolve and determination where there is absolutely no scope for following instinct or logic.
Paralysis through analysis
Analysis and statistics play a vital role in a complex, multi-dimensional game such as rugby, but the massive improvements in technology available to every person out there today sees coaches more often than not trying to justify an analytical question or criticism with some more analysis or statistics of their own resulting in nothing more than a dogâ€™s breakfast.
It is also through analysis that too much is sometimes made of how teams play, or should play, to the extent of specific, tailor-made condition programs developed for each specific team and its players to suit the type of game they want to play.
In other words, not only are players â€˜programmedâ€™ (read manipulated) mentally through statistics and analysis to simply do and not think, they are also â€˜producedâ€™ to suit any teams pre-conceived style of play.
All game, no brain
A complex game like rugby is reliant on structure, no coach, team or player can operate successfully without some form of structure or plan, but there needs to be a balance.
The problem you have when you program little robots or humanoids is that at some stage, that code will be broken, and once that happens, you need a â€˜control-alt-deleteâ€™ to properly fix the problem.
Why is it that we still insist in training every single muscle in the human body except the most important one â€“ the brain?
Whenever you mention the word mental or mind coach to the majority of our conservative coaching personnel you are met with a dismissive response or attitude to the effect of â€˜we donâ€™t need kop-dokters to tell us how to play rugbyâ€™ â€“ somehow believing that the investment in a mental coach is something only sissies doâ€¦
And when at times you do get minimal buy in from coaches in this regard who afford these individuals sessions once every two weeks or at best, 10 minutes once a week, you get the inevitable â€˜see I told you itâ€™s useless, we have seen zero improvementâ€™.
It is almost believed that mental coaches carry a magic wand in which they can fix or improve a teamâ€™s mental application with a simple Abra-Ka-Dabra.Â These individuals will tell you themselves that mental conditioning needs complete buy-in from a team or a coach where they are afforded just one magic session every second week.
Consider the patterns
Just looking at the Stormers a familiar pattern emerges.Â Since 2010 they have made 3 semi-finals (one final) but faltered quite spectacularly at times in these high-pressure, playoff situations.
This is a pattern also found when you look at their provincial team in the colours of Western Province rugby.Â On Saturday Allister Coetzee said that the team will (once again) sit down and analyze what went wrong on Saturday, no doubt reviewing hours of video footage and analyzing every single second and decision of the match.
They will form rugby conclusions through the analysis, tell themselves that the execution was not up to standard, and go back and make plans to hopefully try and improve this on the practice field practicing line outs, scrums, rucks, mauls, kicks, passing and tackling believing next year will be different.
And there will be no point.
The Stormers are no doubt good enough to win Super Rugby, and have been for 3 years running, they got the game, they lack the mental application.
Other patterns we can consider is where mental and mind coaches enjoyed great buy-in from teams and what the long term effects of this was.
- Jannie Putter, Bulls, 2006 to 2010 (3 Super Rugby titles)
- Tim Goodenough, Sharks, 2007 (Super Rugby final)
- Henning Gericke, Springboks, 2004 to 2007 (Rugby World Cup)
- Ross Tucker, Mens Hockey & Springbok Sevens (2008, Sevens World Series Champions)
- Tom Dawson-Squibb (UCT 2011 & Stormers 2010)
For some reason, following the Stormersâ€™ final appearance in 2010 they cut ties with Dawson-Squib and his company with no reason as to why.
I have to re-iterate, mental coaches are not miracle workers, nor is their work guaranteed to provide miracle results, but similar to a defence coach, skills coach, scrum coach, line out coach, or any other coach used in professional rugby today, with time and becoming integral to any teamâ€™s coaching setup, they add immense value.
If the belief that 90% of any game is won in the head first is true, why are we not even affording expert coaches in this field even 1% of our time in a coaching environment?Â I mean it should be logical, shouldnâ€™t it?