Broken promises

GARETH DUNCAN talks to former Springbok scrum coach Os du Randt about Saru not renewing his contract, which props should go to the World Cup, and what’s wrong with the modern scrum.

How do you feel about missing out on this year’s World Cup?
It’s a massive disappointment, but at least I’ll be spending more time at home. I launched a new wine in June and I’ll have the chance to watch my son Thian play for Free State at the U13 Craven Week. I was hoping to work with Ireland heading into the World Cup, as it would’ve given me an opportunity to learn about other scrumming approaches and philosophies, but that fell through. At the moment, I’m just focusing on getting the full-time scrum coach job at the Cheetahs.

Tell us about the incident during the 2010 Springbok end-of-year tour that allegedly led to your contract not being renewed.
We had a team management dinner and then some of us went out for a few beers. Afterwards, I returned to the hotel and went to sleep. The next day, we performed all our duties for the match [against Wales]. I never heard anything from [Bok coach] Peter de Villiers or other management members about the incident.

How was the matter resolved?
Saru didn’t handle the episode correctly. There wasn’t a disciplinary hearing and I received no written warning. If Saru insists there was an incident, then they must prove it. Peter has also never spoken to me about what happened or explained to me why I was axed. He promised me I would go to the World Cup and even suggested I should get a 12-month contract so I could start analysing scrums and South African players in Super Rugby and Europe ahead of the World Cup. But I couldn’t get hold of him after the tour. I left messages on his voicemail and with his PA, but he never called me back. Then I received an e-mail in February informing me that my services would no longer be required. The thing that hurts the most is that when Peter first came to talk to me about being involved with the Boks, he said I must trust him and always be honest with him, because he felt some of his management had betrayed him. Then they used that late-night incident as an excuse to get rid of me.

But the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] dismissed your case against Saru.
Yes, I was disappointed that it turned out that way. If I can take it further, I will.

Do you have any hard feelings towards the Boks?
It was an honour to work with the players and I will always treasure that experience. I wish them and the management who backed me all of the best. Unfortunately, I can’t say that about all of the Springbok management. If they had been honest about not taking me to the World Cup, I would’ve accepted it. Peter and Saru don’t deserve to be a part of any World Cup success.

How did losing the Bok job affect you?
Financially, it caused some stress. I appointed a manager at my farm so he could run the place when I wasn’t there, especially during the World Cup. I can’t just fire him now that I’m not going anymore. I made promises to him before he left his old job to come work for me.

The Bok scrum improved substantially during your coaching stint. What did you do?
I credit the players as they contributed and worked hard on strengthening the scrums. The fact that they were always willing to listen and learn helped a lot. The team also instilled a sense of self-pride when it came to scrumming.

Who impressed you the most?
Jannie [du Plessis] improved a lot in all areas, especially on defence. Beast [Mtawarira]  and Bismarck [du Plessis] also improved as they always wanted to learn.

Schalk Brits and Brian Mujati are two European-based players who performed well up front this season. Should they be in the Bok mix?
Schalk is playing good rugby and should probably be included in the Bok squad, but I don’t think he will be. As for Brian, I don’t think he’s the answer for the Boks.

Which props would you take to the World Cup?
I’d pick Jannie and CJ [van der Linde] as the tighthead props, with Beast and Gurthrö [Steenkamp] as the looseheads.

Would you play John Smit at loosehead?
No, he should only be considered as a hooker.

How vital is Juan Smith’s return from injury?
Juan is crucial to the Boks; he has a big influence on them and the opposition. He should be given cotton-wool treatment until he’s fully fit and 100% healed. He doesn’t need to play before the World Cup.

Is the Springboks’ kick-chase game plan suitable under the current law interpretations?
Yes, but the team will need strong leadership from their management for it to be effective and executed properly. A game plan will only be successful if everybody believes in it.

Who will be the Boks’ biggest threat at the World Cup and who will have the best scrum?
The toughest teams are those they’ll play during the knockout stage, which are likely to be Ireland [quarter-final], the All Blacks [semi-final] and the Wallabies [final]. France or England will have the strongest scrum.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt as a scrum coach?
I’ve learnt so much since starting at the Cheetahs in 2009. The main thing a scrum coach has to do to be successful is sell your ideas and philosophies to the players and make them believe in what you are trying to do. That’s one thing I always do as a coach.

What do you think of the modern scrum?
The stats show that there’s a huge issue at scrum time. Front rowers are struggling to get their timing right with the hit, and referees make it more difficult when they stretch out their call [of ‘crouch, touch, pause, engage’]. Looseheads are also struggling to get their bind right, while hinging is also a problem [where the loosehead’s shoulder line goes under his hips and then rises again]. When the IRB revisits the scrum laws after the World Cup, I believe players should be given more of a free hand to contest at scrum time. Referees should only get involved when there is a safety issue.

What are your future plans?
I want to continue making a difference at the Cheetahs. Right now, I don’t have any plans to become a head coach.

‘Os is a Springbok legend and was an asset to the management set-up – his contribution to South African rugby has been outstanding and I’d like to thank him again. He was offered a short-term contract to assist with the Springbok scrum, which he did successfully to the end of 2010. For 2011 the Springbok management identified other needs to further raise the bar for the team, which is why Rassie Erasmus and Prof Derik Coetzee have been taken on. All decisions are taken around our central focus of doing what is best for the Springboks and the choice of which consultants to appoint in 2011 was taken with the team in mind, rather than personalities.’

– This article first appeared in the July issue of SA Rugby magazine. The August issue will be on sale from Wednesday, 27 July.