Rugby must never lose that – we all know how Fiji and Argentina play the game, and in all sports there are styles that are unique to various teams.
Whether it’s soccer, basketball or even American football – not every team has a quarterback who can throw the deep ball, so they adapt their style to play a shorter passing game.
In all team sports, you have to find a way of playing that suits you as a club and there are ways to be successful within that.
There isn’t just one way to play to be successful and, when it comes to South African rugby, we must aim to be unique in what we do well.
But where we can and must copy New Zealand is in what they do off the field. Let me say that it’s not just about copying and pasting. We must copy, edit and then paste.
The one thing that they get right in New Zealand is that they make every rugby decision with the goal of the All Blacks being successful.
A few years ago when they were struggling to string wins together in World Cups, the Kiwis relooked at their domestic competition. They looked for ways to ensure that there were knockout games in the ITM Cup to expose their players to big-game experiences with a view to helping the All Blacks, and they also got that from the Ranfurly Shield which is a challenge competition.
If you were listing South African rugby on the stock market, it would be a sought-after share just because of the country’s rugby history and ethos, the TV numbers, and the highly ranked rugby schools. So what’s missing, why aren’t our results reflecting that value?
What’s missing is that in South Africa, decisions are not made primarily with the best interests of the national team in mind. We have to consider that question when we ask about the quality of our domestic competition and how we plan on keeping players. Where’s the pathway for coaches and players? Why isn’t the franchise system working? Why aren’t we sharing intellectual property and resources?
Another thing that South Africans like to talk about is centralised contracting. It’s not just the central contracting of players that’s so important, it’s that every coach and conditioning coach is also paid by the national union, and it’s therefore in everyone’s interest to make sure that the players are looked after.
In South Africa, there are some coaches who blatantly refuse to share their intellectual property. The reality is that you wouldn’t get a job in New Zealand rugby with that mindset. There, players and coaches don’t have the right to say they’re going to do things their way.
That doesn’t mean they can’t come up with their own ideas; it’s not to inhibit coaches, but everything fits into the framework of where they want to be as a national team.
New Zealand’s players also play in combinations that are chosen to help the All Blacks perform. It’s not by chance that they move one player to another region to develop a combination, and I’m not talking about the average player – there are some really good players that have to move.
In the Six Nations this past weekend, Dylan Hartley threw the ball to the back of the England lineout to Courtney Lawes three times and Jonathan Joseph went through on first phase.
In the English premiership, Hartley throws the ball to Lawes at the back of Northampton’s lineout every week.
It’s the same with the Lions. There’s no doubt that they were so successful last year because they’ve had to play together for so long, and those those combinations have grown together.
So you have to ask why the franchise system in South Africa isn’t about the best players playing across the franchises. You have to live in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein or Port Elizabeth to play Super Rugby – it’s bizarre!
You can’t tell me that, among all the other provinces, none of those players are good enough to make one of the franchises. We’re saying that there aren’t five players from the Pumas and Griquas who are good enough to make one of the franchise teams.
A couple of years ago, I coached a renegades team against some of the Super Rugby franchises and we won. And in the games we didn’t win, it went all the way down to the wire.
There are a lot of guys making careers of rugby overseas who people in South Africa have never heard of. If they’re not good enough to play Super Rugby, how are they doing it?
So there are things about New Zealand rugby that we should be copying, editing and pasting, and there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s common sense.
But one thing I’ve realised in rugby is that, just because something is common sense doesn’t mean it’s common practice.
By Jake White for