SA must invest in coaches

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says the coaching situation in this country must be given the necessary priority.

It feels like we are back in the Super 14 again, raving about the quality of South African players, the standard of the Currie Cup games and the pace at which the teams are all playing the game.

It makes the Springboks’ Tri-Nations performances even more unacceptable.

John Mitchell, in just a few months, has shown the value of a good coach. All we’ve heard from South African coaches in the past five years is that the Lions don’t have the players, but Mitchell has taken no-name brands and made them look like rugby players.

In every media interview Mitchell has raved about the depth of talent in Gauteng and generally about the abundance of natural talent in SA. Having worked with rejects, the odd youngster and scraps at the Western Force, Mitchell is delighting to be working with this talent.

It has to concern South African rugby bosses that the two teams which have produced a style in the Currie Cup that equals anything we have seen from New Zealand and Australia both have New Zealand coaches; Mitchell at the Lions and John Plumtree at the Sharks.

Both believe in the ball being gold to a team. Both believe in attack and on improving the passing skills of the inside backs to allow for an expansive game that makes use of the width of the field. Both also believe in the fundamentals of the sport, which are that players are fit and that they do their primary tasks first and then look to show their multi-skills.

Plumtree was the steadying influence at the Sharks when Dick Muir’s all-out attack philosophy produced a series of embarrassing defeats. Together the two formed a potent pairing.

It appears Muir has gone the same route with the Lions, and they are already looking like a team that can return respect to the region.

Mitchell and Carlos Spencer are worth every cent they get paid and finally the Lions administration is seeing the benefits of investing in coaches who coach and don’t want the coached product couriered to Ellis Park.

It has long been a criticism (from abroad) that South African coaches don’t coach because of the belief that if a player doesn’t realise his potential immediately, then there is always another one on the conveyer belt.

Overseas coaches have always said that not having enough talent is a challenge but having too much can be as big a challenge to those limited in their coaching ability.

SA has the finest talent in the world — New Zealand included — but the Super 14, Currie Cup and Tri-Nations this year have shown that players can’t coach themselves and that a coach is a bit more than the vehicle that transports players to the ground on match day.

There have been too many jobs for pals in South African rugby when it comes to appointing coaches and there has been a disregard for the creation of a director of rugby, who not only develops the skills of players in the region but also ensures the development of the head coach.

Coaches in this country have traditionally been accountable to a CE , and generally there hasn’t been much respect for this individual because the coach believes he knows more than the guy in the suit.

Whenever a coach fails, a board of elected officials with limited rugby coaching knowledge determines the coach’s future. The system is wrong.

Businessmen should be making the money for their regions and coaches should be looking after the rugby.

The game has evolved but not nearly enough to be called professional because too many of the irritations of an amateur game still prevail across the country.

Good intellectual capital leaves this country because of the belief that there is only room for a head coach.

The Bulls are the exception and they immediately realised the benefits of welcoming back Heyneke Meyer in a different capacity.

The Stormers are starting to profit from Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby and Allister Coetzee as head coach. This duo look after the rugby, despite administrators in Cape Town still thinking they determine the success of the team.

If the Tri-Nations made us cry, then the Currie Cup is making us smile, but at a higher level the tears will continue to flow if the situation of coaching is not given the necessary priority.