Give new coaches a chance

Brenden Nel

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.

- Brenden Nel

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    Yes, agreed some good points. Though personally a little concerned that the Lions have regressed quite significantly. They have some results on the board, but if you look back there were some close shaves. The initial game against the Sharks was on a knife edge, and Sharks are hardly at their bests. Similarly the result against the Bulls was a bit distorted by the two yellow cards followed by a poor outing against the Sunwolves Wolves. All Victor’s, but just. Wishing them well and loads of patients from the fans!

    • Dr Hoffman

      BS they have regressed quite significantly! They are still scoring magic tries and just need to sort out the defence. 2nd BS point u tried to make is about the bulls and yellow cards??? Huh they Lions completely dominated them in every single way. And everyone lauded Swys for the decisons he made, namely the franco to flank switch and the driving maul tactic. only 2 tries at the end made the score look better for the mamelodi suncows. Keep dreaming! a

  • Chris Mouton

    I’m actually willing to give MItchell slack this season, as he is busy rebuilding the Bulls team. Forget about the log. Look at their attacking play. A LOT better than previous seasons. Anyone who can’t see that is biased or blind. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Maybe from next year’s Super Rugby, we can have some legitimate expectations. Regarding Swys, yes, the Lions have regressed a bit. I think they’ll improve. They have a strong team culture. Unfortunately their captains, Kriel and Whiteley, are out injured, so it will take a while to establish the leaders in the group. Let’s see how it goes a month from now. You’d be foolish to write off the Lions. They’re still a good team.

    • Willem

      I wonder wheher the problem is not exactly that team culture has left the lions. They seem to be bad at tackling, holding on to the ball, clearing rucks and other things that depend on commitment to the pride. So while I think the bulls will keep improving, the lions seem to be headed towards party trick circus lions. I pray they prove this wrong

  • Johan

    The bulls have an experienced coach and a “new” team.
    The lions have an inexperienced coach and an “old” team.

    I agree that both need time.

    The difference is that the Lions don’t seem to be working on the problem, the concede too many points and it is just increasing. From the start of the season points conceded are as follows:
    19+27+35+38+38+49 = 206

    That is an average of 34 points per match (4.9 tries per match!!!)

    The new defense coach isn’t doing his job or the new coach isn’t giving him enough time to work on the problem.

    All the commentators are claiming the Lions are struggling to deal with rush defense.
    I think they are struggling with their own defense.

  • Mark Toflon

    NZ are the biggest cheats on the planet, but they very clever in getting away with it. Graham Henry is a tool.

  • Stephen

    One needs to remember that Mitchell was in his second season with the Lions when they got dropped from Super Rugby. Whether their climb back up was due to processes he set up or Ackermann’s leadership is open for debate. Currently, their defense and leadership is lacking, defense can be worked on if the coach is up to it, leadership only comes from experience and the right person for the job.

    • humblepie

      Good point about Mitchells 2 years at Lions. Most journalists give him exclusive credit for the Lions rise to the top where it actually occurred more than 2 years later and with different players. At most I think he had a good influence on Ackerman and De Bruin on how modern rugby should be played. They added a strong team culture and leadership and the rest is history.

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