Feed the messenger
6 Apr 2006
Keo, in his News24 column, writes that the more South African coaches opened up technically, the more the rugby public would be educated.
This week Heyneke Meyer has described criticism of his Bully Boys as the work of the ill-informed. Well, Meyer, like every other coach in the Super 14 can change the perception that his is a one-dimensional team struggling to create tries by actually speaking more and giving a bit more insight on the technical virtues of his team.
Coaches, many so paranoid that they resist releasing the starting lineup by the Wednesday, argue that the media lacks insight and the message that goes to the public is skewed.
But the coaches do nothing to further the education of the writer as to the nuances of that particular team. And South African coaches, the majority very insular in their thinking, have done little to advance the way in which the public thinks about the game.
These coaches, first to criticise reporting they believe to be off the mark, offer very little of value or substance to rugby writers because they believe they are giving away a state secret.
So they indirectly promote guess work on the part of the messenger.
The writer is not privy to the communication within the four lines or the four walls of a changeroom.
An example: If in fact player 13 is the one who has messed up a particular defensive pattern and not 12, who has looked disastrous because he is covering 13′s mistake, then the coach needs to be explaining this. His response should not be a siege mentality and a retort that the writer hasn’t got a clue.
The responsibility is the coach’s to improve the quality of the message. The openside flank only makes eight tackles, when the norm is 15 for a player in this position.
How many coaches will discuss the post-match team analysis with the writer for the purposes of publication, where the player’s performance is explained?
Yes, in this instance the player’s tackle count was down, but in the context of the game the player was the man-of-the-match because he slowed down the ball 12 times at the ruck against a team that relies on quick ruck ball.
The player’s role, for example, had changed for a specific game.
The same is applicable for the lineouts. What was the communication between hooker, jumper, lifter and support lifter? Where did the problems come?
Was it the support lifter who was off his game, where the media are blaming the hooker or jumper? Often the wrong person is identified because coaches think that by not speaking out publicly they are protecting the player.
Instead they do damage to the wrong players.
Our game is still caught between being an amateur sport clouded in secrecy and a profession that speaks openly to those who invest time and money to promote it every weekend. Playing statistics are guarded like treasure.
Somehow, everyone who reports on the game seems to come up with a different set of statistics because a lot does come down to interpretation. What rates as an assist in the tackle? What is an effective tackle?
What is the time frame put on an effective slowing down of the ball at the ruck? What value is there if a team takes it through nine phases, but advances just two metres? Only the coach can provide this information, because it differs from team to team.
But there is no where to go for this information. Sanzar, the governors of the Super 14 and Tri Nations, don’t release official and detailed data of matches.
There is not one officially recognised data base that can be tapped into for accurate statistics. A lot of it then becomes interpretation of the writer and in some cases guess work is reported as fact.
And the coach freaks out, as Meyer did, when his team was described as boring, one-dimensional and unable to score tries.
Rugby reporting in our country is very limited to who is injured and who is fit; what the coach says and what the coach wants recorded as an on-the-record utterance. Invariably, it represents puffy clouds and not sunshine or thunder.
Rarely are you the wiser after speaking to a coach because they offer so little technical information about their team.
An innovation in Australian media coverage is the interview with the Australian coaches at half-time and substituted players, who speak from the dugout while the game is in progress.
It gives the television viewer something extra. The player and coach offers an insight that no reporter can have because of their actual involvement in the game.
These kinds of innovations are too rare and too limited to just one country.
I’d want to hear Kobus van der Merwe, in a minute, tell the audience what his message was to his team when they trailed 18-3 against the Cheetahs. I don’t want to read speculation from the writers of what they think it would have been.
Urban legends have been created in rugby because of a lack of communication. In the professional era legends should be the result of accuracy.
Rugby can learn from codes like the NFL. Colleagues of mine have been to the States to report on the Superbowl final. Within 30 minutes of the finish, they are given a 45 page review of the match, detailing every player’s performance, with expert analysis and insight around these statistics from the respective coaches.
This is done to ensure that writer does not want for information when formulating his own opinion and telling a nation what actually happened.
They feed the writer to grow the accuracy in the coverage of the sport. In South African rugby the writer is starved of information and this continues to stunt the education of those who follow the game.
It is a situation easily fixed with the right attitude and mindset from coaches, who accept that it is their responsibility to communicate and not isolate their insights and team-related information.