As Western Province rugbyâ€™s bosses continue their search for a coaching success story, an amazing one, involving a home grown talent, is being written at Stellenbosch University.
World rugbyâ€™s most renowned feeder institution has a 31 year-old running their premier rugby team. But when I spoke to Stellenbosch Universityâ€™s Maties coach Chean Roux this week it was from his Super Spar in Wellington.
Unfortunately it epitomises rugby in Western Province. This town has the countryâ€™s best talent and the worst results in the Super 14 and Currie Cup. The professional game produces mediocrity and the amateurs delight in excellence. Sacked Western Province coach Kobus van der Merwe bemoaned the standard of practice facilities and justified continued failure on what the Cape apparently did not have. But what we do have is a brilliant young coach, who is running a grocery store in the day, studying rugby at night and winning matches each Saturday.
Western Province rugby is in crisis. The provincial coach has just been fired, the Director of Rugby position has been dissolved and there is a caretaker coach of the senior side. In the interim there is a global search for a Currie Cup coach who understands rugby, who can appreciate the cultural and language complexities of rugby in this town and who is successful. Why isnâ€™t there an internal search?
Why has Rouxâ€™s rise been missed? The world comes to Stellenbosch University for a glimpse at Danie Cravenâ€™s legacy, but Roux is the living prototype of Cravenâ€™s ideal Western Cape coach. Heâ€™s Afrikaans with an English wife; heâ€™s schooled in the Western Cape, educated at Stellenbosch and heâ€™s a former Stellenbosch University captain, who played as a loose-forward for Western Province, the Stormers and Boland. Heâ€™s been the coach of Stellenbosch for the last three years. And heâ€™s just 31 years-old.
Thereâ€™s nothing to explain to Roux about the sensitivities of English/Afrikaans, the obvious and subtle differences in southern suburbs/northern suburbs; the issue of coloured/muslim/christian â€¦ heâ€™s grown up with it and heâ€™s played his professional career within the rugby system. Thereâ€™s nothing he doesnâ€™t understand about the professional game or the complexities of Western Province rugby.
Why is he not in the professional coaching system?
The question should embarrass rugbyâ€™s administration in this town because it is one that should never have to be asked.
Western Province should be boasting about their â€˜Roux Planâ€™ and they should be trumpeting the story of a very good local player who gave up the professional game as a 27 year-old to do his coaching apprenticeship at the most prestigious institution.
This is a home town story and I should be writing about Rouxâ€™s introduction into the Western Province and Stormers coaching structure; as opposed to informing you that while rugby may be his passion, his business is running a Super Spar in Wellington.
He admits his ideal is to make rugby coaching his business, but speaks as enthusiastically about his coaching apprenticeship. As head coach of Stellenbosch University heâ€™s already won two domestic titles, a national title and is on his way to another domestic title. Heâ€™s also claimed the national club championship double, having captained Stellenbosch University to the title in 2000 as a 24 year-old and having coached the students to another title in 2005.
There are blokes with less experience coaching Currie Cup and Super 14 rugby and there are guys with far less pedigree calling themselves professional coaches. I highlight this to Roux, but he maintains heâ€™s still an apprentice.
â€œAny rugby coachâ€™s apprenticeship should be thorough and you should build up a track record. I am doing this and the next phase would be a bigger introduction into the coaching structures of a professional set-up,â€ says Roux. â€œNaturally my ideal is to coach professionally and I know I could make a contribution to Western Province and the Stormers, but I donâ€™t regret the route I have followed. If anything I feel privileged to have played for Maties (Stellenbosch University), to have worked with what I consider a rugby inspiration in Ian Kirkpatrick, both as a player and as an assistant coach, and to have had him as a mentor over the last three years.
â€œI also donâ€™t see Stellenbosch University as an amateur set-up. I believe the approach of those who run the club is on par with what Iâ€™ve seen among the professional franchises. The difference in coaching professionally is the caliber of player you work with, but the principles of coaching and managing players remain the same,â€ says Roux.
â€œThe analysis requires the same attention to detail. The pressures are different because as a professional it becomes your job, but as a player I only ever knew professional rugby â€“ and even when I played I considered myself a coach more than a player.
â€œThere were things my mind knew that my body wasnâ€™t capable of translating as a player. So these days it gives me huge satisfaction to see those ideas play themselves out through a player who is better than I ever was.â€
Coaching, says Roux, is about knowledge, player management and having an understanding of the game and players. Technically he backs his rugby knowledge in any discussion, but what he struggles to understand is the resistance to debate in South African rugby.
â€œIt is a thinking game and the more opinions the more detailed the discussion and the better the result. Players have to be comfortable they can debate things with a coach and coaches should be promoting discussion and interaction with other coaches. It is the only way weâ€™ll improve our game. I donâ€™t understand the reluctance to new ideas and different opinions. Surely it is the end goal that has to be the common denominator and not a shared opinion on how you achieve it?â€ he asks.
You would like to think so is my response, adding that youâ€™d also like to think Western Province would have entertained Rouxâ€™s opinions in their professional coaching structure.
Roux doesnâ€™t respond to that. Our time is up and heâ€™s got a Super Spar to run.
Captained Maties to national club championship title in 2000
Played for WP and Stormers between 1997 and 2001
Played for Calvisano in Italy 2002
Played for Boland in 2003
Assistant coach of Maties in 2004
Head coach of Maties from 2005