I believe the appointment of Gert Smal as Western Province’s new director of rugby could well prove an ingenious plan.
On the back of four consecutive defeats in Australasia, the power players at Western Province could easily have decided on a complete system overhaul. However, the appointment of Smal as an add-on rather than a direct replacement is a positive sign in terms of the broader picture in Cape rugby.
Whether practicing as medical doctor or rugby coach, my philosophy is always informed by a holistic approach. Therefore, in this instance, I believe the men in suits at DHL Newlands deserve credit for not throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
Furthermore, they have had the foresight to reunite the assistant coaches who helped guide the Springboks to the 2007 Rugby World Cup crown. Coaching is all about forging relationships and the fact that Smal and Allister Coetzee have worked together previously, will ensure that the latter views the former as a friend and confidant rather than a threat or foe.
Yes, the Stormers class of 2014 are struggling for form and results but, no, that doesn’t mean the coaching team must be dismantled. Coetzee’s win rate at the helm of the Stormers – 65 per cent – speaks for itself.
Metaphorically speaking, Smal should view himself as the captain of a ship, which must turn slowly in order to charter the correct course. The bottom line is that well-functioning organisations worldwide never start from scratch and completely rebuild.
However, in the current climate that is professional sport, the public are ever more invested and, in turn, impatient for success. While supporters remain an invaluable stakeholder, I believe they are, at times, hamstrung by the symptoms rather than the root cause.
It’s important to note that when observing the oval game from an analytical viewpoint, the margin between success and failure is slim.
Moreover, if we examine the four main elements of the game: set-piece, defence, exit strategy and attacking play, each one of these areas is dependent upon individuals.
As such, the Stormers lineout and attacking efficacy has been undermined by the loss of key playing personnel – both to injury and the lure of foreign currency.
For this very reason, while Smal will provide the coaching staff with invaluable support and experience gleamed from abroad, I believe the former Ireland forward coach’s primary point of focus should be aimed at recruitment and retention of talent in the Western Cape.
At present, I’m of the opinion that the remedy is being sought in the wrong places.
At his official unveiling to the media on Monday, I believe Smal erred slightly when stating that he wants to the union to return to their traditional strengths and embrace a more attacking brand of rugby.
That statement could potentially put pressure on the 52-year-old as it may be misconstrued as advocating a ‘run from everywhere’ approach, last seen during Carel du Plessis’ playing days.
While attack and defence at times seem worlds apart, often these two elements feed off each other.
I believe that one of the Stormers’ primary tactical flaws is that their defensive strategy does not lend itself to turnovers, which currently represent the greatest source of try-scoring opportunities in the oval game.
To argue that because a team defends well, they therefore attack poorly, is a flawed hypothesis.
Take the 2007 Bulls Super 14-winning side under the tutelage of Heyneke Meyer, for example. The Pretoria-based side’s game strategy was heavily territorially-driven yet they registered the most number of tries and point scored in that year’s competition.