Coaches must take the hit

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that week nine of the Vodacom Super 14 was a damning indictment on the skill of SA’s leading players, the competence of some of the regional coaches and the timing of another of Jake White’s ill-advised media utterances.

White, never shy to voice an opinion to the media, should have realised by now that the effect of most opinions is in the timing of these opinions.

To tell the public, through the media, that he will not be picking his second captain out of the current Springbok match 22 was not the work of a genius.

White has compromised himself by revealing his captaincy hand. If John Smit were unavailable, said White, his next choice would be Cats flanker Wikus van Heerden, who in 18 months has not managed to break into White’s match 22, let alone his starting XV.

White emphasised he did not feel he had a good enough leader in his last match to succeed Smit, should he be unavailable.

The statement begs several questions going into the international season, the most obvious being: what happens if Smit goes in the first minute of a Test?

How does White expect Victor Matfield, Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Juan Smith, AJ Venter, Os du Randt or Schalk Burger (all captains of their provincial and regional sides in the past year) to lead the national side with any confidence when they know the national coach does not back their leadership ability?

Or does White select Van Heerden as a reserve loose- forward and in the event of Smit getting injured does he also whip off a loose-forward to accommodate Van Heerden, so that he can take over the captaincy?

Alternatively, does he pick Van Heerden ahead of Jacques Cronje, Joe van Niekerk, Shaun Sowerby, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Pedrie Wannenburg, AJ Venter, Solly Tyibilika or Luke Watson? Van Heerden, in terms of ability and form, ranks in the top 10 loose-forwards — not the top five.

What happens if Van Heerden is injured in the next six weeks and is not available — and Smit is also unavailable?

What does he tell those who are left? White has created a captaincy monster with the potential to badly damage this season’s Test prospects.

Of more immediate embarrassment was the performance of SA’s teams at the weekend. These guys play rugby for a living. When you go to the office they go to a rugby field.

When you negotiate a deal, study the markets or advise on an investment, they catch and pass a ball. It is not something they do for the first time on a Saturday, even if the concept of catching and passing looks totally foreign to them every Saturday.

The skills are not good enough and their ambition does not match their ability. The decision making, of when to take contact or offload in the tackle, lacks thought, as does their respect for the laws of the game.

South African players gene-rally lack discipline in their application of the basics and the laws. The two most culpable teams this season have been the Stormers and Cats. And the two most culpable coaches have been Kobus van der Merwe and Frans Ludeke.

When a kid shows a lack of respect and discipline, you look at the parents. When a team has no regard for the basics, you have to look at the coaches and, on the evidence of the past nine weeks, neither Van der Merwe nor Ludeke are good enough to coach at this level.

The criticism of both teams in week nine is consistent with criticism in week one, which suggests those cracking the whip don’t know how to wield the whip. There is no disgrace in losing but when you lose because you can’t catch a ball, can’t pass and don’t know when to kick, run or take the contact, there is no excuse.

When a player makes one mindless mistake, jogs back and blatantly infringes again 20 seconds later, it tells you there is no culture of discipline or consequence in that squad.

When the team’s captain commits an equally mindless shoulder charge four minutes later and is also sin-binned, the belief is reinforced.

In teams, as in business where there is a culture of discipline and excellence, there are consequences to those kinds of acts. That individual isn’t around to add further embarrassment.

In South African rugby, the same mindless players get picked every weekend by the same coaches. And we wonder what the problem is?