The SA Rugby coaches indaba being held in Cape Town over the next two days could be a significant first step in turning rugby in the country around so that the goal of turning the Springboks into the No 1 team in the world would be achievable
That was the summation of the opening addresses of SA Rugby acting president Mark Alexander and Bok coach Allister Coetzee on the first day of the conference on Wednesday. Perhaps the most significant message to come out of the first hour of the meeting was that the national body, or at least its acting president, does recognise the weakness in the South African system, while Coetzee wondered if SA rugby had really embraced and adapted to professionalism.
Alexander stressed that the process of turning South Africa back into a top rugby nation would depend heavily on the coaches, and said that New Zealand had it right in terms of their focus on good coaching as well as in the way the game there is structured.
“New Zealand get it right. Their CEO Steve Tew said last year that to produce great players you need great coaches, and if you don’t have great coaches, you cannot have sustained success,” said Alexander.
“All 180 of the top players in New Zealand are looked after by the New Zealand union. In South Africa we have six different franchises, who each have different goals and objectives and different ways of coaching and messages that are put across to the players. Our players spend the bulk of their time with the unions.
“The system that we operate is clearly not going to be efficient in managing our players well. This indaba aims to find a solution to that problem. The last indaba was in 2005, 11 years ago, and this one has the potential to change the direction of rugby in this country.”
Of course, just what the coaches can achieve in terms of making the necessary structural change when the 14 elected officials who serve as the provincial presidents who make the decisions were not present is debatable. However the impressive spread of rugby people at the indaba and the mood of those present, with the general atmosphere being one of wanting to get the game right after the wake-up call of the Bok performances, struck a positive note.
The indaba is being hosted at a Cape Town hotel and it was noticeable as delegates arrived that the ambit of the intensive two day think-tank has been broad in scope, with all current franchise coaches present as well as many back-room staff.
There were some top local rugby brains not there, with former Bok coaches Nick Mallett and Heyneke Meyer understood to have turned down invitations to attend the event, and there is confusion over whether the only surviving Bok World Cup winning coach, Jake White, was invited or not.
But otherwise there was impressive depth to the representation of coaches and interested parties, with former Bok coaches Carel du Plessis, Ian McIntosh and former Bok captains and players such as Gary Teichmann, John Smit, Ashwin Willemse and Stefan Terblanche among the people attending. Both coaches facing off against each other in Saturday’s Currie Cup final between the Cheetahs and the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein were in attendance.
Alexander told the conference that the objective was to turn South African rugby around and commit to the achievement of excellence.
“A commitment to excellence will be a vital ingredient of our discussion over the next couple of days,” said Alexander.
“The objective of turning the Springboks into the No 1 team in the world is an achievable objective, particularly if we all work together. Together we must find a new direction, and that can only be realised if there is intense collaboration. We need to identify and acknowledge the common goals, such as players welfare, skills and fitness, so that we can be No 1, and that is what we all want.”
The emphasis on the importance of the Springboks, as the flagship of the South African rugby, being successful, was stressed, but Coetzee said that could not be achieved if the parties did not work together “hand in glove”. Coetzee said that even if he’d won all nine of the games he has presided over with the Boks (his current record is won four and lost five) he’d have seen the meeting as necessary.
“People often talk about how successful the Springboks were prior to 1995, and there has been a big differentiation between amateur era rugby and how the Boks have done do the professional age. We need to ask ourselves if we have adapted as a country to professional rugby,” said the Bok coach.
“There has been isolated success since 1995. We won the World Cup in 2007 and there was an 80 percent win record in 2013. But that success has been sporadic. And we are not just talking about the Springboks. Our home record in Super Rugby (in terms of wins) is just 57 percent. Our percentage away is just 25. In the Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship we have a 62 percent record at home since 1996, and just an 18 percent record away.
“We need to ask ourselves – have we embraced professionalism?”
Coetzee said that there was a clear cut parallel between Super Rugby success and Springbok success, and he cited the 2007 example, when the Boks won the World Cup in a year where the Bulls and Sharks contested the Super Rugby final and provided 22 of the 31 man World Cup winning squad.
“The national body and the National and franchise cannot exist in isolation from each other. This indaba is not about dictating game plans. Every coach has his own ploys and plans, whether he plays off the 9 or off the 10. This meeting is instead about creating a national strategy that will be about equipping players to deal with whatever game-plan that is necessary on a particular day and in a given situation.”