Much has been made of the massive brain drain of South African coaches to overseas-based clubs and the subsequent loss of intellectual capital. I see it as more of a blessing than a curse because the overseas experience will aid and abet the development of South African rugby coaches.
Rassie Erasmus, who has enjoyed a terrific first season with Munster and Johan Ackermann, who will head to Gloucester following his Super Rugby commitments, are two coaches who boast the ability to guide the Springboks in the future.
They are both relatively young coaches and I foresee them coming back to South Africa and adding their expertise after gaining priceless experience in the northern hemisphere. I regard the pair’s northern stints as part of their professional development – you grow and develop as a coach by being exposed to different environments – and I have no doubt that they will return to South Africa at some stage and make an invaluable contribution to SA rugby.
Ackermann is now an experienced Super Rugby coach, but we must remember that he was under the tutelage of John Mitchell. It would be wrong to underestimate the value Mitchell added during his time in Johannesburg.
He assisted in the mentoring of Ackermann and he played an important role in laying the foundation for what the Lions have become today.
On the flipside, Bulls Super Rugby coach Nollis Marais has not had the benefit of any mentorship since assuming the head coaching role in 2016.The Bulls’ torrid season is down to a lack of experience on Marais’ part and also not having anybody to guide him.
In contrast, by the time Ackermann took over the coaching reins from Mitchell, the latter had already done his job. Marais has taken all the right steps in terms of his coaching development, but he was moved into Super Rugby too early. Marais was left high and dry without having mentorship.
However, it has since been addressed by the Bulls board with the appointment of Mitchell. Marais will remain in the Bulls system as Currie Cup head coach and will assist the New Zealander from Super Rugby 2018. Preferably, when you bring in a young coach he should go through the process of Varsity Cup, Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup. And if you appoint a young Super Rugby head coach, you require an experienced director of rugby to serve as his mentor.
The two SA Super Rugby coaches who were left in a tough position were Marais and Deon Davids, because neither have had anybody to guide them and whom they can lean on. Although this season has been extremely difficult for Marais he will learn from what has happened. He is making the right noises in terms of showing the necessary resilience and he clearly wants to coach. I believe he will be a better coach for the season that he has gone through, but ideally it should not have come to pass.
There is nothing wrong with fast-tracking coaches if they have the ability, but I’m of the view that a graduated pathway is the answer. I am not saying that there isn’t value in the coaching badges you need to acquire, but the mentorship a young coach gains from a head coach or director of rugby is absolutely critical.
Every single Super Rugby franchise should have a proper development pathway for coaches and a coach development department in place. When I served as the Southern Kings’ director of rugby, from early on we targeted Mzwandile Stick as a future coach.
We started Stick on that pathway and got him involved. He subsequently won the under-19 Currie Cup title with Eastern Province in 2015 and was named as a Springbok assistant coach in 2016.
SA Rugby pushed him too quickly into the senior national side and he didn’t have the requisite depth of experience. We had a pathway planned for him through the ranks and our objective was to develop promising young black coaches like Stick.
I would have preferred to have seen developing coaches such as Stick and Chean Roux heavily involved in provincial and Super Rugby before graduating to the senior national setup.
By and large though, coaches in South Africa are earning their stripes by coaching at a lower level first. The aforementioned duo has since been redeployed to assist the national under-20 side and their experience at age-grade level will stand them in good stead coaching the Junior Springboks.
Solomons served as the Kings’ director of rugby from 2010 to 2013 and drove the revival in the region. The former Springbok assistant coach spent just over three years in charge of Edinburgh and led the team to the 2015 European Rugby Challenge Cup final. He most recently offered his expertise as a coaching consultant to Bristol in the Aviva Premiership.