Rugby is a game that is supposed to celebrate a wide variety of skills and talent, all shapes and sizes – that is why we have 30 guys on a field in a game. Not everyone can be a Beast, a Bakkies or a McCaw, just as not every player can be a Dan Carter or Gio Aplon, but in a rugby team you need all of that to be successful, that is why we love the game so much.
But something has changed, and what has changed is a combination of the law changes trying to put an appealing product together and the mindset of those who coach it.
For years we have been told that rugby needs to become more entertaining in order for it to compete on the global stage. For years laws have been changed and tweaked in order to achieve this, and in the last couple of years the only thing this achieved was to morph rugby into a league type product with some scrums and line outs. A game where muscle and weight is more valued than skills and special awareness. A game where a team’s defensive records are celebrated more than their ability to score points.
Comments by Dawie and Brendon on the Super Rugby review thread yesterday made me think of the dozens of blogs I wrote over the last 8 years on the ability to coach players to become skilful. To coach a player to ‘train-his-brain’ and recognize patterns, identify opportunities and think 2 seconds quicker than the opposition. Something, sadly, I reckon most people still believe you cannot coach…
Of course this comes naturally to some players more than others, but it remains a skill, and skills can be coached and improved.
Our mindset these days however has become a safety-first approach. We spend as much if not more time trying to prevent the other team from scoring than trying to score ourselves. We try to minimize mistakes to the extent that patterns dictate us and our thinking where it should be the other way around.
As Springbok supporters which New Zealand and Australia players do we fear most? I got a list and feel free to add your own, but names I can think of includes Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Israel Dagg, Aaron Cruden… Why do I fear them? They can turn a game upside down through a single moment of brilliance and absolutely mad skills. They make mistakes, sometimes they make plenty of mistakes – but as was mentioned yesterday, do you think opposition coaches and players remembers a crazy kick or pass that went astray, or do they remember those ones that worked knowing it is impossible to set defensive plans against it?
South Africa had those players in the past… Remember Slaptjips? Brent Russell? Opposition coaches do… There is even one or two around today, think Gio Aplon, Willie le Roux, Piet van Zyl… Do we celebrate their ‘mad skills’? No, we are afraid of unleashing it, or as Keo said in his column, we prefer to reward those players who don’t make mistakes.
There are loads of misconceptions in SA Rugby in my opinion – like the belief that we don’t have 6 teams good enough to play Super Rugby, or that transformation is doomed to fail. The most ridiculous of all and relating to the above is that we don’t have the skills to compete with New Zealand or Australia. We do, we just don’t coach it, or reward those who have it.