10 March 2020, by: Sibusiso Mjikeliso
SA Super Rugby Teams have Cheapened the Head Coach Job
Lately, some dubious head coaching appointments at the South African franchises at various phases have cheapened the meaning of being a Super Rugby head coach in this country. The latest example is that of a conditioning coach being parachuted from basically running fitness drills to coordinating the defence, attack, forwards, backs, set-pieces, kicking, strategy, tactics, formation, running lines and team selection.
The Lions opted to move on from Swys de Bruin, who took over from the relatively successful Johan Ackermann and gave Ivan “Cash” van Rooyen the keys of a great second-hand vehicle that still had all its warrantees and service plan. The Lions have since regressed to the ignominious nobodies they were after splitting from the Cats, before resurfacing under Ackermann.
I am also left wondering whether, much like Robbie Fleck, Ivan van Rooyen has been fast-tracked into a position he may not be ready for.
That’s not to say he is a bad coach, far from it.
But it feels like his appointment was rushed.
Did the Lions consider other candidates?
— Dylan Jack (@dylanmattjack) March 7, 2020
Van Rooyen is probably a nice enough fellow and the Lions would not have made the three finals they did had he not maintained the fitness standards they kept up to fuel their stealthy counter-attacking game.
But he is no head coach. It’s like giving a 12-year-old E-Sports gaming champion the Real Madrid coaching job because of his skills on FIFA 20. The Lions began the season with a now customary loss to the Jaguares by a whooping 30 point-margin in Argentina and were blown out by the Melbourne Rebels by 20 points in Australia last weekend.
They’ve won one game, against the Reds at home, who themselves have only won one game this season. Granted the team is fresh and young, so too the coaching staff that includes Julian Redelinghuys and Warren Whiteley. But those young coaches and players are learning to co-pilot a plane on a flight with a captain that doesn’t have a pilot’s licence.
They are destined to crash – not cash – and eventually burn. But I lay the blame squarely on the higher-ups at the franchise who make these mind-boggling appointments.
Another great season for Scott Robertson’s Crusaders. Christchurch remains a fortress.
3⃣ consecutive Super Rugby titles for this side
3⃣1⃣ game unbeaten run in Christchurch
2⃣4⃣ playoff wins at home for the franchise (zero defeats)
— Jon Cardinelli (@jon_cardinelli) July 6, 2019
Contrast this with New Zealand teams. The Chiefs convinced Warren Gatland – British & Irish Lions coach and one of the most successful Wales coaches of all time – to become their Super Rugby franchise head coach. There is no doubting Scott Robertson’s credentials after his three-peat since taking over as Crusaders coach. Before then, he served a stellar apprenticeship as the Junior All Blacks and Canterbury head coach.
He has a remarkable coaching record even at the tender age of 45. He’s won six titles in seven seasons with Canterbury and then the Crusaders, with an 85% winning record. Under Robertson, the Crusaders have never lost a home game. He has mountains of First Class experience as a player and came to within a swing vote of becoming Steve Hansen’s successor at the All Blacks.
The Hurricanes’ Jason Halland spent years as understudy assistant coach from 2008 to 2019 before getting his shot at the big time after John Plumtree opted to join Ian Foster’s All Black management team. You can’t imagine a conditioning coach becoming the Crusaders head coach, can you? Not even the Blues are that insouciant.
But the Lions aren’t the only ones guilty of defecating on the head coaching position. The Sharks had their time with Robert du Preez – a glorified club coach riding high on the shiny white horse of privilege – who turned Kings Park into his personal fiefdom where only his boys were allowed to play. This was at the expense of some other promising talents.
Sure, when he took over, Gary Gold hadn’t had the best time of it in Durban but you can respect Gold’s coaching credentials. You can’t say as much for Du Preez, whose claim to fame was coaching a well-funded College Rovers team, Leopards and North-West University Pukke. Not really a Wales or the British & Irish Lions type CV, is it?
It’s no wonder SA Rugby had very few options to turn for their next Springbok head coach, after Rassie Erasmus relinquished the reins to assume his director of rugby role, and settled for the safe Jacques Nienaber option. At least Nienaber has formulated defence systems and was part of the World Cup-winning Springbok team.
It appears the suits in Plattekloof at HQ will have to forge their own formula for finding national team coaches if the sub-par appointments continue in Super Rugby franchises.
The Stormers had their stint with Robbie Fleck, who waltzed into the job after the botched attempt to get Eddie Jones. Just think about it: Eddie Jones to Robbie Fleck? Jones, who has made two World Cup finals as head coach and won one as an assistant, not to mention his historic time as ACT Brumbies coach between 1998 and 2001.
At least the wheels have been straightened with John Dobson’s appointment, who has served his time as a Western Province youth coach, during which he shaped the careers of Siya Kolisi, Scarra Ntubeni, Eben Etzebeth and Steven Kitshoff.
Ditto the Sharks. Sean Everitt is one coach who “gets it”. He’s also had enough years in the system to warrant a shot at the job and he looks set to create something special in Durban.
It’s unclear whether Pote Human has it in him to turn the Bulls into a force again but there is no doubting that White could bring hack the shine to management that’s had mud all over it of late.