The second verse of the Guns ‘N Roses song ‘Patience’ starts with: “Take it slow, and it’ll work itself out fine, all we need is just a little patience.” This has never been more apt, in the context of South African rugby, or more undesired across the board.
After another weekend of poor Vodacom Super Rugby results, impatience abounds and the growing pressure on the likes of John Mitchell and Swys de Bruin comes at a moment when both are trying to achieve very different goals, all in the name of progress.
Patience is a virtue but one that is not too often espoused – especially in rugby. The tension between making progress and producing results is ever-present in modern sport.
The All Blacks stuck with Graham Henry and the result is clear to see. Steve Hansen has been around the team for more than a dozen years and the team has been the world leader in rugby over the past decade.
There have been spinoffs as well, as the All Blacks’ success has allowed the next generation of coaches the freedom and opportunity to build their experience and CVs. Joe Schmidt, Warren Gatland and Dave Rennie have each had no choice but to continue their development abroad, hoping one day they get the call to coach the national team.
But here in South Africa, and in Gauteng in particular, patience seems to be wearing thin. Swys de Bruin is under the microscope after the Emirates Lions sandwiched a lacklustre win against the Sunwolves with losses against the Blues and Jaguares.
Die-hard Lions fans are rightly questioning the team’s performances. The loss of Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley has had a massive impact on leadership, but the Lions are in second position on the log, so surely there is nothing to worry about?
The problem is that they will face Kiwi heavyweights, the Crusaders, Hurricanes and Highlanders, and they have yet to tour.
Across the Jukskei, John Mitchell’s “new dawn” has suffered some massive setbacks on tour. One win in five puts him on par with his Vodacom Bulls predecessor Nollis Marais at the same stage of the tournament. And, aside from one half of rugby against the Chiefs, critics will debate whether the Bulls have made progress at all under Mitchell.
But it’s precisely this results-above-all mentality that misses the point. Mitchell has started something new at Loftus, and it will take time. Old habits die hard, it seems. Fitness may be one thing, but the Bulls still need to master the art of composure under pressure.
It seems a bit daft to want to place so much pressure on a coach five games into the season, but the Bulls are currently just above the last-placed Sunwolves, something that their fans won’t be happy about.
The bottom line is that there is no simple fix. There is no magic wand. Time and hard work on the right road is all that moves a team forward. A lack of patience is often the worst enemy of a team that is precisely in the Bulls’ position.
Mitchell is an old hand and he will know what is needed. Fans and administrators need results, but the reality is that results buy time. A lack of results leads to impatience, something common among SA Rugby administrators.
Both Swys and Mitch deserve patience in their endeavors. Both are trying to cope with some serious challenges against a backdrop of massive expectation. Time will tell whether they achieve their goals and satisfy expectations.
Both are aware that results are all that matters. Every coach knows he is only a few losses away from being fired. But they deserve patience. Even though it may be the toughest virtue to find on a rugby field.
Axl Rose put it succinctly, “Sometimes I get so p***ed because I can’t speed up the time.”
Time is all they need, so let’s be patient.