EP’s talent spotter

SIMON BORCHARDT, in SA Rugby magazine, talks to Robbie Kempson about the Kings academy and the policing of the scrum.

How did you get involved with the Kings?
It’s been quite a long process. I coached under Solly [Kings coach Alan Solomons] at UCT and was an assistant coach for the Kings’ match against the British & Irish Lions in 2009. I was EP’s technical analyst in the Currie Cup First Division on a part-time basis and when they got a full-time analyst I became the team’s scrum coach and head of the academy.

What’s your role at the academy?
My job is to identify young talent in the province and prevent players from being poached by the bigger unions. Last month we visited 37 schools. [Former provincial flyhalf] Gareth Wright is the academy’s assistant manager and he ensures that there is an open pathway of communication between the schools and the Kings.

Where’s the academy situated and how many youngsters are involved?
We are based at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The Kings academy is different to others in the country in that we have a much smaller group of players and they don’t pay to attend; we select them and offer them bursaries. We teach them rugby and life skills because we want them to become rounded individuals. Look, one or two of them may still decide to move to other provinces at some stage, but we’re hoping to keep most of them here.

Many promising black players at age-group level fail to kick on and make an impact at senior level. How will you prevent this from happening at the Kings?
The fact that we will be able to keep these players in the province and in their social environment will help a lot, as will the fact that we are focusing on life skills and not just on playing rugby. We will also ensure that they get opportunities to prove themselves at senior level.

As the Kings scrum coach, were you satisfied with the pack’s performance last season?
No, the scrum was one of our weaknesses and we really struggled when we lost Rory Duncan to injury. But we have more strength in depth this season and I’m confident we will improve.

How do you feel about the officiating of the scrum by referees at the moment?
I think referees need to learn about the scrum from people who know what they are talking about. I get worried when I hear [Saru manager of referees] André Watson  say that referees are going to start penalising front rows for what I would call minor indiscretions, because the scrum is a complex area of the game. At the moment referees tend to blow against the wrong player when something happens. For example, I’ve seen them penalise the loosehead prop for boring into the tighthead when it’s actually the other way around, or they penalise the scrum that’s going forward when it’s the retreating scrum that’s usually forced to do something illegal. In my opinion, the northern hemisphere referees handle the engagement far more effectively than those in the south, especially the French referees in the Top 14. They seldom get it wrong.

How disappointed were you when the Kings failed to earn promotion to the Currie Cup Premier Division last year after drawing and losing your two games against the Pumas?
We were disappointed, but Solly had only been coaching the Kings for three months and has put a lot more systems in place since then. With hindsight, I don’t think we were ready to be promoted last year, because there’s no point in going up and then not being able to compete.

Do you think the First Division play-offs should be scrapped, with the team that tops the log crowned champions?
Yes, that would be ideal. Last year, the Kings and Eagles were at a huge disadvantage going into the promotion-relegation matches because we had just played a First Division semi-final and final, while the Premier Division teams were coming off a two-week break. The First Division teams also had to play the first leg of the promotion-relegation games away from home. The Eagles were expected to beat the Leopards, but looked like they were suffering from a hangover in their first match in Potch.

Is promotion to the Premier Division non-negotiable for the Kings this season?
Yes, we have to go up. No excuses.

The Kings beat the Bulls in a pre-season friendly this year, before losing to the Lions and Cheetahs. What did you take out of those games?
I think the Bulls win gave us a false sense of security and the Cheetahs showed us how far we still have to go as a team. It was a good learning curve but we’re not at the point where we can play three consecutive games against Super Rugby opposition.

You must have been pleased with the large crowd support.
Yes, it was fantastic and has been ever since our promotion-relegation game against the Pumas. The people of PE have really thrown their support behind the team.

Are the Kings using the Vodacom Cup to prepare for the Currie Cup campaign?
Yes, definitely. It gives us a chance to test out new combinations. It’s all well and good bringing in big-name players like Luke, but you need to develop a strong base of players under the stars.

Do you think the Vodacom Cup should be replaced with a national club tournament, as some have suggested?
The good thing about the Vodacom Cup is that it helps the smaller unions to prepare for the Currie Cup and the bigger unions to bring their younger players through the system. But I do think more emphasis should be put on club rugby and the development of young club players.

What were your thoughts when you saw the Melbourne Rebels lose their first ever Super Rugby game 43-0?
I don’t think you can compare the Rebels to the Kings, because South African rugby has much more depth than Australia. How many players do we have overseas who left because they couldn’t make it into a Super Rugby squad? A fifth Australian franchise was always going to dilute their rugby, but South Africa has enough quality players to have six competitive franchises.

– This article first appeared in the April issue of SA Rugby magazine.

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