Mallett: “It’ll be blood and thunder”

WP director of rugby Nick Mallett is urging Stormers fans to have realistic expectations going into the Super 14. He spoke to SA Rugby magazine’s Simon Borchardt about the 2006 campaign.

Q: Was Kobus van der Merwe your obvious choice to coach the Stormers?
A: It wasn’t my decision to appoint Kobus as coach. Every decision that’s taken regarding the Stormers is made by a committee, which includes the executive and the amateur arm of the union. Boland also had a proposal they presented to the committee, so they had a say. Following the committee meeting, Kobus was appointed as coach, a decision I agreed with. It wasn’t a dictatorial decision that was made by me.

Q: Three out of four members of the Stormers coaching staff are from Western Province. That must please you.
A: When I was interviewed for the job of director of rugby at Western Province and asked how I would go forward, one of the things I said was that it was important that the coaching staff from the Currie Cup were involved in the Stormers campaign. The majority of the Stormers squad is made up of Western Province players and, in order to create continuity, those players need to be coached by the same staff. Losing [Stormers coach] Gert Smal to the Springboks every year was an issue for Western Province. While we had Carel [du Plessis] and Jerome [Paarwater] during the Currie Cup, they had a different coaching philosophy to Gert.

Q: Were you forced to include Boland coach Hawies Fourie in the Stormers set up?
A: No, not at all. We have a partnership agreement with Boland, and Hawies has done a great job with them. Boland were very competitive in the Currie Cup last year and actually beat Western Province in the Premier Division, so you have to respect what Hawie’s done. In the past, Boland have accused Western Province of ignoring their players when the Stormers squads were selected. Having a guy like Hawies involved in squad selection makes a massive difference. If he thinks certain Boland players should be chosen, he’ll be able to say so in our meetings.

Q: Have the Stormers set themselves a goal in terms of where they want to finish on the log?
A: We want to aim as high as we can. We’ll never come out and say that we’re happy to finish six or seventh, because we always aim to reach the semi-finals. But given the fact that this team probably underperformed in the Super 12 last year, after saying they were aiming at a top-two finish and a home semi-final, we’re not going to make wild predictions about how we’ll do. As a coach, I wanted to win every game we played. Every single time the Stormers run out onto the field, whether it’s home or away, we should be looking to win the match.

Q: Is it realistic to expect to win all 13 round-robin matches?
A: No, it’s not. The Super 12 was an incredibly difficult competition for South African teams to win, and the Super 14 will be no different. The travel element makes it so much tougher for South African sides. Australian and New Zealand sides have only three consecutive matches away from home, while we have four or sometimes five. So the odds are definitely stacked against us. We need to be pragmatic. I don’t want to put too much pressure on the coaching staff or players. We’re just looking to improve on last year’s performance and to finish in the top two South African sides. If the top South African side gets a home semi-final and we finish fourth, then that’s fantastic. If the top South African side finishes third and we come fifth, then that’s also fantastic.

Q: Have you considered the prospect of relegation?
A: It will obviously add to the pressure. The games between South African teams are always tough, but they’ll be blood and thunder next year.

Q: Do Stormers fans have realistic expectations?
A: I want the public to understand that this is a young side that is still developing, especially in the tight five. It’s a side that can perform, as the Highlanders and Hurricanes have done with a young tight five. Also understand that this will be the first time the coaches have a full season to work with the team. Their coaching philosophy and personality will be able to come through during the Super 14. The players are very talented, but they need to pick up Super 14 experience. The only way they’ll get that experience is to play.

Q: Were you happy with the Stormers draw?
A: It doesn’t matter when you get your home games, really. It doesn’t change the fact that you have to win all your home games and two or three away if you want to reach the semi-finals. This year, we have five home games at the start. Ideally, we’d like to claim one or two wins at home, get on a roll, then go overseas and win two or three matches, before coming back to South Africa and cementing our place in the semi-finals. Of course, if we slip up at home, then we’re under pressure straight away.

Q: The Sharks have bought Tony Brown, while Trevor Leota and Keith Lowen will play for the Cheetahs. Why haven’t the Stormers looked overseas?
A: I’ve decided to give the players we have in the province an opportunity to prove themselves. We have a number of talented U21 players, guys like Neil Fullard and Paul Delport, who have all done well against their New Zealand counterparts at age-group level. I’ve noticed that New Zealand have no qualms about blooding their players in the Super 12 and that their youngsters usually make the grade quite quickly. Take Peter Grant, for example. He played 10 or 11 outstanding games during the Currie Cup, and a couple of mediocre ones. So if you look at his season as a whole, it’s very positive. There’s no point leaving a talented 22, 23 or 24-year-old on the sidelines during the Super 14. I don’t want to block their progress by bringing in an overseas player who’s past it and only interested in the cash.

Q: What role will you play with the Stormers?
A: I will speak to Kobus on a daily basis – about my views on selections and tactics – but I won’t be involved at all in the actual coaching of the side. The head coach is Kobus and he is responsible for the happiness and performance of the Stormers. It’s important to note that the role of the director of rugby is to look after all rugby in the Western Cape, including schools, U19 and U21 rugby. I’m also involved in recruiting players and coaches, as well as providing clinics. It’s a very broad brief.