At the recent announcement of SA Rugby’s new player contracting model, which is essentially aimed at keeping the middle tier of player in the country, one aspect of rugby’s future was glossed over. Coaching development and pathways.
Losing players at an alarming rate is a huge problem for SA. But if there is one issue more pressing, it’s the amount of coaching capital flowing out of the country.
The Hurricanes were a whisker away from becoming the first team in history to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch in a play-off game last week. They’re coached by John Plumtree, who learned and developed his craft in SA for more than a decade.
Johan van Graan is doing impressive work at Munster, Johan Ackermann has turned Gloucester into potential English champions, Gary Gold is coaching the USA with great success and Dave Wessels is doing an admirable job at the Melbourne Rebels with scarce resources.
They range in age from 37 (Wessels) to 51 (Gold) and none are involved in the SA game anymore.
In the coming weeks Franco Smith is off to coach Italy and Robbie Fleck will be surfing in Bali as he ponders his next move post Stormers. Jake White and Heyneke Meyer are coaching clubs in Japan and France respectively.
Add others such as the wily Alan Solomons, who is director of rugby at Worcester where Omar Mouneimne is the defence coach and it’s obvious SA has lost a minibus full of coaching talent.
I know there will be guffawing at the idea that Smith and Fleck are somehow great coaches, but this issue is broader than that.
Fleck has spent four years as a Super Rugby head coach. Thrown into the job without the right experience and pedigree, or without mentorship, he managed to just about survive. His winning ratio of 51% over four years is nearly on par with the lauded Swys de Bruyn’s 54% winning ratio over two seasons with the Lions.
The Stormers’ lack of success can easily be blamed on Fleck but so much more has been at play in Cape Town over the period he was at the helm of Cape Town’s flagship rugby team. And now, with all that hard-earned intellectual capital that could be used locally, he is likely to resurface as a coach in a foreign land.
Another loss to SA coaching, Smith’s taken on the Italy job which is a much more glittering assignment than the Cheetahs.
And what about Robert du Preez, by all accounts the most loathed rugby coach in SA? His Sharks have under-performed, and like Fleck, he is on his way out – less for his results and more for his personality clashes with players and Sharks management.
He was a successful Varsity Cup coach given a job above his station when the Sharks appointed him. He has made many mistakes in the last three years but he didn’t appoint himself.
And when the Sharks eventually show him the door it will mark the fourth head coaching change since Plumtree’s departure in 2013. What kind of succession planning is that?
Former Blitzboks coach Paul Treu may be a controversial figure but he is out of the coaching frame for the time being while Vuyo Zangqa had to achieve success with the German national sevens team before making a return to SA.
We can’t talk seriously about player development if there is no coaching development and no distinct coaching plan.
Fleck was not properly mentored and now he won’t be around to mentor another young SA coach. Treu became a frustrated figure at the Stormers because there was no clear career path carved out for him to pursue.
Both are too young to be lost to the SA system, especially considering the amount of time invested in their development.
Hiring and firing coaches is easy. But until there is patience and planning around a coach, SA teams will continue to flounder as typically, a young, inexperienced coach shoulders the blame for a massive systemic failure.