Sauls’ time is up

GRANT BALL says that the move to look for a new SA U20 coach is the correct one.

At Saru’s executive council meeting on Wednesday one of the decisions taken was that the posts of the Baby Bok coach and his assistants would be advertised. The new coaching team will be in charge for the Junior World Championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

If Sauls had to re-apply and get the job again, that would mean he would have had six years at the helm. Three years has been too long without any success – just a poor return of three third-places – and it’s time for new blood in the coaching staff.

However, signs are there that Sauls will stay on, as he headed the management team of this year’s SA U18 high performance group in order to provide ‘continuity’ to the SA U20 team. The SA U18 side were lucky to beat England 23-17 last month, out-scored by three tries to one and the Boks had to rely on individual brilliance and goal-kicking rather than a constructive team performance to seal the result.

This after he was also coach of SA U18 last year, who were embarrassed 45-13 by England.

Speaking to numerous Craven Week coaches recently, they believe that the players selected for SA U20 were – with the exception of one or two omissions – the best South Africa can produce. Players who Sauls has worked with over the past three years range from Coenie Oosthuizen, Robert Ebersohn, Lionel Mapoe, Lionel Cronje, Gerhard van den Heever, Dewaldt Duvenage, Francois Hougaard, Wilton Pietersen, Pat Lambie, Wandile Mjekevu, Frik Kirsten, to Nick Koster. All of them have had success in the senior ranks, but Sauls couldn’t produce with players that would be the envy of any other nation.

Sauls’ excuses for SA U20′s repeated failures revolve around their lack of a regular competition, like a Six Nations U20 championship. But why can Australia and New Zealand, most notably the latter, perform without one? The Baby Boks toured France in February, played Eastern Province in one of their warm-ups, and Sauls had many opportunities to mould his side.

After playing in Wales in 2008 and Japan (2009), Sauls’ excuses continued as he said those conditions didn’t favour South Africans. He said Argentina 2010 was the year. But all we had was two losses against Australia and New Zealand, while Sauls’ record against those two countries and England is two wins from six in three years.

After failing to get past the semi-finals for three consecutive years (once losing heavily to England 40-21), Sauls said he was pleased his side could get a bronze in Argentina and that they could beat England for the first time in the U20 format.

That shows Sauls’ level of expectation when the Baby Boks are judging themselves against England. New Zealand have set the benchmark, more importantly by their coaching standards.

Yes the Kiwis have talented players, but they had a largely new-look squad this year with minimal players returning from last year’s (again) victorious unit. New Zealand coach Dave Rennie could not only identify talent but could blend it into a unit.

Consistent problems have come up front (troubles the coaching staff have failed to rectify over three years), while the Baby Boks have been physically out-gunned. Sauls and his supporters lament the opposition being bigger than the Baby Boks, but no one forced Sauls to pick the 1.66m 72kg Branco du Preez at inside centre against the All Blacks in this year’s semi-final, where they lost 36-7.

There was little emphasis on defence – the Baby Boks weren’t even getting dominated at the collisions, they just weren’t tackling.

When asked by this website two years ago what his response is to calls for his axing after a poor showing at the Championships, Sauls said he wasn’t concerned as he had a full-time job with the Blue Bulls. That shows what Saru should do when appointing the next head coach of the Baby Boks.

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