At the conclusion of last year’s coaching indabas, Deon Davids probably wasn’t at the front, high-fiving the cluster of his plaid-shirt Super Rugby peers chugging the kool aid in celebration of SA franchises agreeing to “play rugby the way it’s supposed to be played”.
Aside from being Super Rugby coaches, another thing that Nollis Marais, Franco Smith, Robbie Fleck, Rob du Preez and Johan Ackermann all have in common is that Facebook was founded before any of them took their first steps in their current profession.
Davids started coaching in the 90s. It’s been a bumpy ride.
I remember ringing Deon up regularly during the time he was heading up a Boland team that won eight of 19 Vodacom Cup matches between 2007 and 2009.
Since then, he’s worked as an assistant coach to the Emerging Boks and SA U20s, did two years at UWC and two with the Lions juniors before being appointed as the SWD Academy head coach in 2012.
Four years later, he was thrown into the malaise at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium to work with a jaded group of administrators, coaches and players that hadn’t been paid for months and who were living on empty promises.
Only two teams kicked less than the 2015 Kings, and nobody missed more tackles as PE’s finest won two of 15 matches, conceding 684 points and 95 tries along the way. That’s an average of more than six tries per game.
Maybe that’s why Davids wasn’t buying it when Bok coach Allister Coetzee commissioned Brendan Venter to facilitate a coaching get-together aimed at making SA franchises more progressive.
The warnings that “rugby’s changed!” and “don’t get left behind!” would have made little impression on a man who has spent the majority of his career working with supremely skilful runners who never win trophies.
While his fellow indabians filled up their plans with carries and offloads for 2017, Davids excused himself from the cool kids’ table and went in the opposite direction.
The Kings have made the fewest runs in Super Rugby this season and are 17th in the offloads column. And no-one has put their foot through the ball more than Lionel Cronje who heads up the fourth-most prolific kicking game in the comp.
It’s not by chance that the Kings are suddenly a top-five team in the tackle-completion category and they’ve scored more tries than the Cheetahs, Sharks and Bulls. Their tally of 36 tries is only three shy of what the Stormers have produced this season.
So the Kings have kicked and tackled, and now people are talking about Makasole Mapimpi as a potential Bok winger.
I’m not suggesting that Davids is suddenly a top-flight coach. While I’m a big cheerleader for what he’s achieved at the Kings this season, their results are propped up by playing Australian teams at arguably their lowest ebb, the Sunwolves and SA rivals chasing fool’s gold.
But Davids is a case study in the point Jake White made recently – experience makes even a relatively unheralded coach better-equipped for Super Rugby than one who is learning on the job.
And the Kings’ results and tries-tally, despite kicking the dimples off the ball, validates Jon Cardinelli’s column which exposed the holes in the Bulls’ infatuation with rugby that rocks instead of rugby that wins matches.
Despite the fact that he’s working with a completely overhauled Kings team from a year ago, Davids suddenly has credibility precisely because he had the experience not to get caught up in the doomed quest to discover all-action rugby.
Unlike his less-experienced peers, Davids has stuck to the tenets of the game that made the Bulls three-time champs and elevated the Stormers to contenders under Rassie Erasmus. His team has won more games than the Cheetahs and the Bulls, and beaten the Sharks.