A respected rugby writer, Owen Slot from the Times of London, had an interesting observation about the future of Springbok rugby. He compared it to the situation faced a number of years ago by cricket in the Caribbean. Top players were lured to other countries by lucrative contracts and the game at home suffered as a result. Slot wrote: “The steady trickle of players going abroad at the end of their careers is now a tidal wave, and they don’t just go at the end any more, either. They go in their early twenties. The suggestion yesterday was that Eben Etzebeth, the South Africa lock, is soon to join Saracens. He is still only 24. This is the kind of player around whom the Springboks should be building their future, not waving goodbye to. In total, an estimated 350 of them are earning a living from the game outside of the country at present. Some say thatAllister Coetzee is close to losing his job as head coach. Of course they do. Yet, really, when you have a talent drain like that, what do you expect?” I spoke to former Springbok coach Jake White on Hot91.9 for his views on what could be done to stop the slide of South African rugby. – David O’Sullivan
A new style of rugby, a new game to take on the All Blacks. When you look at that performance against the Springboks, do you endorse what he is suggesting?
No, I don’t. I don’t’ think that our problem lies in how we’re going to play; I think our problem’s much greater than that. What he says is that we must stick to what we know best and I think that’s more relevant. We can’t be copying anybody and we can’t be trying to play like anyone else, so I don’t believe we playing the way we’re playing and getting results the way we’re playing is due to the style or lack of effort or lack of enthusiasm or different players are not trying to play for South Africa and trying their best to play South Africa. I think that the problem is much deeper than that, David. I think that this has been coming for a while now and unfortunately, these players and this coaching staff are bearing the brunt of the decisions that should have been made ten years ago.
What can be done now to rectify the situation? We have seen Allister Coetzee suggesting a coaching indaba, getting people together to start thrashing out ideas. Is that at least a good start or would you recommend a different tack?
Yes, look I don’t think that’s going to help because all that you’re going to hear from coaches that are in the system is exactly the same complaints that coaches within the system ten years are going to be saying again. The challenge is that whatever comes out or whatever meetings they have now, there has to be action and I don’t believe it has to do with any feedback that comes from the coaches, it’s about direction from the people that are making those decisions above them.
What would you like to see happen?
David, I think I suppose it’s like anything, what I’d like to see, what every supporter would like to see is just an understanding about what the next step is and clear indications of whether we’re all on the same page to take that next step, but the next step means that we have to minimise professional players, maybe reduce numbers, maybe strength-on-strength, Currie Cups maybe. Whatever the decisions are there has to be a clear message out to the people that watch rugby, that support rugby, that sponsor rugby to see whether or not all the decisions that are made are measured from time to time.
I think what people are saying now is that there doesn’t really seem to be a clear understanding about what South African rugby wants to get out of the next ten years, whereas I think that for me is the most important thing. We’ve let ten years go by, we’ve just drifted along, and I think there needs to be a clear understanding about what do we do next. As I said, it’s not just lip service and it’s not just meetings, it’s about a clear feedback to the stakeholders of exactly what is the guide it and what is the route forwards.
You’re suggesting a cleanout at the top; it’s the top management structures that need to be changed before anything’s going to change further down the chain.
Yes, I don’t know if I mean cleanout, I just think those people must, I suppose communicate exactly what the… I said it the other day, David, we’re saying that as supporters and as people who love rugby and as people who want to be the best in the world and I’m sure like all the supporters and fans that go and watch, they go “We lose, we lose”, but maybe South Africa’s vision is to consistently be in the top five in the world, you know maybe South Africa’s vision is to consistently be competitive in most competitions, maybe their KPI is to have a balanced team that plays relatively attractive rugby. I mean I’m not sure, but if it is that then we are in line with those trade key performance indicators and then anyone who’s outside saying it’s not good enough, well that’s not what SA rugby have in mind.
If SA rugby have in mind to be the number one rugby nation in the world, unless South African rugby come out and say that, well then you can audit every decision they make after that. So if you play Currie Cup Rugby on a Thursday night of Friday night in front of 10 000 people, well then that doesn’t really go hand-in-hand to becoming the best rugby nation in the world. If you’re not thinking overseas based players, or you’re allowing overseas-based players to go overseas and earn money like in Japan and then come back and play Currie Cup, well that then isn’t quite also allied to the fact that you want to be the best rugby team in the world. Then it becomes easy because then the public and the supporters and anyone involved in rugby knows that the mission is quite clear, we want to be the best rugby playing nation in the world, so then David, it’s very simple.
Every decision you make after that should encompass that mission and that means that you want a super rugby coach who’s going to apply and be good enough. If you want a national coach who’s going to apply and be good enough, if you’re talking about should you release players to go and play overseas and the answer is, “Does that improve the Springboks?” and the answer is “No”, well then you don’t release players to go and play overseas. As I said, it’s not an attack on any individual. I think that what must to come out is just a clear indication and a clear guidance as to exactly what is the next step towards.
We have the overseas tour coming up. It seems from what you’re saying if that is to rectify the situation it’s not something that can happen within three or four weeks. Do you anticipate that this, we’re heading for quite a miserable trip to the UK?
Yes, anyone who is involved in the sport will tell, if it was that easy, David, just to wave a wand and within a matter of four weeks change everything around, well then every country in the world would be doing it, no doubt and I go back to my point, it’s very simple David. I could give you a team now of players who didn’t play this weekend, who will try as hard to be Springboks and will try as hard on the field to play their guts out or try as hard to win games. That means that there are players, you can’t judge the players that are playing as saying, “You know, I heard stories about second half, they didn’t play like they had, you know they didn’t have emotion and they weren’t giving their all”.
I can’t believe that a player in the national team in front of his home crowd is not giving his all, so I must say David, I feel so sorry for everyone who is involved there because it can’t be fun. I think one of the things about growing up in South Africa is you really long for the day that you play for your national team. It must be so, so, so disappointing for all of those players, because they’re basically living their dream and it’s probably a bit of a nightmare for them because everything they do and everything they try is really not even helping.