Victor, Fourie aren’t ready to coach – Jake

Jake White

Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield are two of the greatest rugby brains we’ve produced in the last 20 years. Many older rugby supporters will have just as much respect for Naas Botha and Frik du Preez. All four were fantastic Blue Bulls and Springboks.

Fourie and Victor are reportedly candidates to coach the Bulls if John Mitchell leaves for England. Now, if someone said tomorrow that Naas and Frik were on the shortlist to coach the backs and forwards at Loftus, people would say that’s crazy.

But what’s the difference? Just because those players are legends of the game, some of the greatest ever, doesn’t mean they can coach.

There’s the science of coaching, and then there’s the art. The science of coaching comes from a book, but the art comes with time in the saddle.

In rugby there’s a position on most management teams for a skills coach – an example of his role is teaching the players how to catch and pass. A coach can do drills that are repetitions to improve the skill of catching and passing, but that doesn’t mean he’s taught the players where that skill fits into the game.

When I was starting out as a professional coach at Transvaal, I remember teaching coaches in the townships how to run the old Jim Blair, four-corners passing drill. When I went back there six weeks later, they would repeat that drill exactly like I had showed them, but the player had absolutely no idea how to apply the skill in a match.

It’s a bit like mastering a kata in karate, but when you’re in a pub and someone punches you in the mouth, you’ve got to understand how to use those self-defence skills in a real life situation. If you don’t teach them how to use that skill in a live situation then that skill is nothing. That’s an example of the art of coaching, and that’s what we’re losing in South Africa.

A guy who has been coaching a high school First XV for 15 years, is better in year 15 than he was in year one. Why? Because he’s learnt from his mistakes, and he’s learnt what works.

Vince Lombardi didn’t make his famous quotes after one season of coaching, he made those quotes based on years of experience in the NFL.

SA Schools coach Sean Erasmus has taken a post at the Lions. He’s spent his years as a schoolmaster, went up the ranks, and I think he should take the Lions U20s, and then in a few years maybe become an assistant coach to the seniors and learn under the head coach.

If Fourie and Victor coached the Blue Bulls U19 team for the next five seasons, imagine how strong the Bulls would be in 2028. That is how it worked at schools 20 years ago – those guys would have worked their way up through the system – and that tradition is why South Africa’s big boys’ schools continue to dominate foreign schoolboy teams today.

Just because you’re a great salesman, doesn’t mean you’re a great sales manager, and I’m not sure Affies or Pietersburg Hoerskool would employ Fourie and Victor as their 1st XV head coaches. It says a lot about our rugby that they’ve got more chance of getting the Bulls job than the 1st XV job at the high schools they attended.

Buurman van Zyl, Kitch Christie and Nelie smith all coached club rugby for many years before they could coach provincially. Dawie Snyman won five Currie Cup titles, Kitch Christie won the Currie Cup and Peet Kleynhans coached Free State for years – during that time, coaches would have given their left arm to get a job with a senior provincial side.

Now I read that Brent Janse van Rensburg is thinking of going to Paarl Boys instead of the Kings, and the Lions have made their Strength & Conditioning guy the head coach of the Currie Cup team. Would they make an S&C coach the head coach of an NPC side in New Zealand? Never in a million years.

Where are our coaches? Where is the succession planning? Something doesn’t gel.

John Mitchell couldn’t get the Bulls to be successful this year. He’s got a longer CV than anyone on the Bulls shortlist and he had an 85-percent win-rate with the All Blacks.

Put in the same situation, two guys with almost no coaching experience are not going to make it because they’re going to make their coaching mistakes at the highest level instead of at high school. There’s no learning curve in senior professional rugby.

How can you have a system where a guy who has never coached leapfrogs everybody? The truth may be frightening – there probably is no system.

Why are we in that situation?

Back when the Springboks were at the top of the world rankings, you could have been a teacher for 20 years and never coached your high school’s 1st XV, because the first team coach was so entrenched.

Now we’re at the point where coaching experience is not required to be on the short-list for a Super Rugby job.

How far are we from having a Bok coach who has never coached?

- Jake White

Let's chat

  • Simiber

    Ackermann……….?

    • Sharky

      Ackermann is a good prospect and he has shown a lot of promise at the Lions. Would I like him to coach the Boks – hell yes!! But would I prefer him to take the job when he is as well prepared as he possibly can be !

      Ackermann has only had 5 years proper coaching experience. So give him another 3 to 5 years and then bring him in as a Bok consultant or assistant (maybe straight after the 2023 RWC). By then he will have had nearly 10 years worth of coaching experience. Then let him work within the Bok setup for another RWC cycle or 2. Then, in his late 50s, with 15 to 20 years of coaching experience (4 to 8 years as the Bok assistant), unleash him on the world.

      Consider that the most successful coaches of the past 20 years had decades of coaching experience before taking the top national spot. Graham Henry had a 85.4% win rate with the All Blacks. But before he earned the top job at the All Blacks he had 30 years coaching experience (12 years at provincial/Super Rugby or higher including 4 years coaching Wales and the British Lions).

      Steve Hansen had 8 years experience coaching at provincial/Super Rugby or higher including 2 years coaching Wales before he was made All Blacks assistant coach. And then he worked as an assistant for 7 years before he got the top job – 15 years experience in total.

      Ian Foster (the All Blacks current assistant coach) had 10 years experience coaching at provincial/Super Rugby or higher including 2 years coaching the Baby Blacks before he got his job. That’s the level of experience and succession planning that the All Blacks expect, why do the Boks accept any less?

      • Dean

        Spot on Sharky. Another great example of a coach learning his trade is Wayne Smith. He had an unsuccessful stint as head coach of the All Blacks. Did they throw him away? No. He did stints as assistant of the All Blacks and Chiefs. Still today, he is a well respected coach in NZ. John Plumtree is doing wonderful work at the Hurricanes as an assistant too. SA rugby leave their coaches out in the cold after they are finished with them. Heyneke Meyer, Dawie Theron and even AC could contribute a lot to SA rugby. It could be on a development, recruitment or administrative level.

  • Nick.

    Jake is 100% here. And as much as I disagree with much of what Jake says, he has been through all levels of the game AND proven his ability with the teams he has coached from way back in the day with Highlands North.

    In fairness, Matfield has been doing some coaching of late. I notice he did not last at the Lions as a lineout consultant. In fact, their lineouts went backwards while he was there. Naas lasted about a week with the Bulls u/20’s when he stopped playing. At least he realised it was not for him.
    Fourie DuPreez? To my knowledge he has had didley squat experience of coaching. Maybe the boys are short of cash? The worst possible reason imo.

    This type of arrogance from ex players always makes me laugh. They get held up as heroes through most of their careers and are therefore assumed to be ‘naturals’ in whatever they do rugby wise. I wish them well!

    A good example of how ex Boks have worked their way up would be Nick Mallett and Rassie himself. Rassie as player/coach of the Cheetahs revitalised that team. Mallett coached Boland, Coached in France and across Europe too.

    • Abri Spies

      Funny thing how all pick up and comment on the rumours. I can tell you for a fact that Fourie declined the moment the Bulls approached him. He has never had any interest or intention to coach them.

  • Sharky

    “Where is the succession planning?” Jake, ou maat, that is the biggest problem with South African rugby. It was a problem when you coached the Boks and it’s still a problem today. It should be a given that one of the Bok assistant coaches will take over once the head coach moves on. If that is the understanding when assistants are appointed then maybe we’ll start getting better quality assistants. Assistants should be people on the cusp of the main job, not someone who’s had only 5 years experience coaching age-group level and piss-poor provincial sides – Mzwandile Stick I’m looking at you! The same should be the case at provincial and Super Rugby sides. If you appoint a poor candidate now, it just means that there will be more of a mess to clean up later.

    The problem is that the concept of doing your time, gaining experience and earning a top job is becoming a foreign concept in South Africa in general. My father worked for a large bank and had 35 years experience doing what he did. But he was moved aside for a 21 year old BCom graduate of the correct demographic. My dad was later retrenched when he made it know that he was going to be pursuing an MBA to improve his promotion prospects. He was too pale and too male to hold his post, but he was later brought back to “consult and assist” his replacement. That’s code for “fix up the mess that non-merit appointments create”.

    Two people to do one job. Poor quality and inexperienced people making important decisions. Poor results. Long-term damage to brands. The erosion of a winning culture. All of that is what happens when merit is pushed down the pecking order. The current state of South African rugby in and South Africa general owes a lot to this.

  • Colin M de Beer

    Once again Jake nails his argument 100%. But what we also lack, is legends of the game such as Fourie and Matfield to further mentor the younger lads coming through the ranks… Imagine Fourie du Preez mentoring a younger Ruan Pienaar or Cobus Reinach. What it could have done in terms of their kicking abilities. Or perhaps Victor Matfield assisting the likes of Andries Bekker and Eben Etsebeth in the technicalities of the line-outs… Jacques Fourie in the defensive organisation…. those are all skills that should have been brought forward to the next generation players

  • Swannie

    Jake is of course 200% correct. When players retire, they should just disappear off the scene, leave coaching to the coaching professionals and go play golf.

    The same applies to them becoming TV “pundits”. Apart from Nick Mallett (in South Africa), the rest of them are not exactly pundits. The nonsense they repeatedly babble is rather nauseating. In my opinion only top-class former coaches can be and should be rugby pundits on TV.

  • John Comyn

    What Jake is saying makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure what coaches earn at different tiers but it could take a very long time to earn a decent wage. It’s also a pretty thankless job! Skills can be learnt but nothing trumps experience. It’s sad to see a good bloke like Fleckie flounder but he is clearly lacking experience in a management position. He has been sent overseas to learn, he has the pick of the age group players coming through the academy, he gets his way by and large in players he wants to recruit yet he can’t get the best out of the group. We now hear that his management team can’t see eye to eye. Should they stick with him another year?

  • Chris Mouton

    I agree absolutely with the article and the comments above. The Bulls need a NZ coach. The Sharks for that matter as well. It would be an absolute farce if Victor or Fourie were to coach. Ex-players rarely make good coaches. Tana Umaga is unfortunately a glaring example of that.

  • Beesblaas

    Rassie is then an exception. He coached the cheetahs to their second only curry cup after retiring as player the previous year. Beating a bok laden bulls side at loftus in the final.
    Funny that Jake ignores this in his article. Even if just to say exceptions can happen.

  • Stuart

    “How far are we from having a Bok coach who has never coached?” Carel du Plessis coached the bokke with zero experience and last 6 months..

  • Chris

    “It’s a bit like mastering a kata in karate,”

    Problem is ,Jake still teaches Karate, while the All Blacks have moved on to the UFC years ago.
    You tube is full of guys in white gi’s getting pummeled by MMA fighters.

  • Dawid

    Actually people have short memories. Victor Matfield was part of the coaching team of the Bulls team to win the South African conference in 2013, also has coaching experience at the Lions. Jake’s argument doesn’t hold water. In the past he would never have been a Springbok coach because he didn’t play for the Springboks. Did Jake prove that sentiment wrong? Yes. Ackerman didn’t have a lot of coaching experience either. You often see coaches getting worse with time because their ideas gets stale. Now going to soccer Zinedine Zidane won 3 consecutive EUFA CL trophies. He didn’t manage for a long time, and got promoted rapidly through the ranks. Victor Marfield is not a naïve like Mitchell who didn’t play to condition, couldn’t coach the forwards and continued trying to driving maul everything even when it was clear it wasn’t working 95% of the time. Biggest problem at the Bulls is the lack of depth and world class front row.

  • Barry Smith

    Poor administration is at the core of things, as ever!
    What business in the world appoints a international senior manager (coach) without undergoing some form of psychometric testing to evaluate their strategic ability to perform at the next level? The answer is quite simply none, other than of course SA Rugby!
    That is why we see unexpected failures – how could, for example, Heineke Meyer fail after a glowing Super Rugby career? Out thought by Japan, New Zealand, Argentina and even Cheika! Simply, his strategic thinking was not sufficient for the job and testing would have revealed that!
    Our two successful international coaches – Nick Marlette and Jake White, have something in common, they are both teachers, both graduates and both strong on strategy!
    As Jake points out, experience and time in the saddle are important, but even so, this is not a guarantee of suitability to move up the ladder – strategic thinking is the prerequisite!
    The good news is that Rassie Erasmus, is also a graduate and is also strong on strategic thinking!

    • Adam

      I wouldn’t call Heyneke’s stint a total failure because of tbose losses you mention – he did take the Boks to a World Cup bronze, having lost to NZ in the semifinal by 2 points…

  • Herman Schroder?

    A lot of valid comments here but I fail to see the most obvious one mentioned. The NZ setup is based on one basic principle continuity within a standardized game plan for the whole country. It’s far easier for not only players to slot into their roles as they move up but coaches as well. In SA our playing styles are fragmented and coaches who have never being able to master the more demanding art of modern rugby have been found wanting.

    Alistair Coetzee the prime example although Heyneke Meyer just as guilty. Coetzee based his Stormers game plan on defence and hardly anything else. As soon as he came across teams with more skills to fleck open ( pardon the pun ) the defence his game plan crumbled. Heyneke had the same problem although he did have a more expansive approach in his earlier years which however deteriorated as time went by. It was finally ruthlessly exposed by Japan in 2015 and the rest is history. He called on a group of golden oldies to go back to basics ( dom krag ) and it failed completely.

    The problem these two encountered plus Fleck and Du Preez is that they were schooled in a highly conservative way of playing and coaching. Due to the success of the Bulls and the Boks in 2009 / 2010 the style was ingrained in their psyche and they simply couldn’t adapt to the more demanding skills required to coach the expansive game. Frans Ludeke typifies this with two SR titles up to 2010 and from then only going from bad to worse.

    The point I’m making is that passing the experience from one ‘game plan challenged’ coach like Coetzee to a guy like Fleck is basically a case of the blind leading the blind and it showed in the results. The problem is immense because the required nous and skill levels of both players and coaches are far more demanding in the modern era than playing or coaching to a conservative pattern. Jake is right succession planning is a must but it must be the enlightened teaching the trainees not throwbacks from the failed last 8 to 9 years.

    This leaves us in a very unique and regrettable situation. Apart from the Lions ( I had to bring them in somewhere, lol ) who of the current batch of coaches can honestly say they have the nous to effectively coach the multifaceted game plan so wonderfully expressed in the AB set up ? Swys has done an admirable job at the Lions and Rassie has had the wisdom to bring him into the Bok setup but will he be given free reign and the skillful players to execute what he knows ? Only time will tell.

    As far as the Franchises are concerned they have no choice, they must go shopping overseas for suitable enlightened coaches no matter the cost. Succession planning can then start in earnest and we can hopefully hope that the spin offs will come sooner rather than later.Cheers.

    • Dean

      “The NZ setup is based on one basic principle continuity within a standardized game plan for the whole country. ”
      NOT entirely true. The second part of this statement is a myth. The Highlanders play a tactical kicking game, similar to the successful Brumbies teams of old. The Crusaders’ success this year was based off strong defense and set-piece play. The Chiefs have always embraced the running game and will counter attack you from anywhere. The Hurricanes are very physically imposing and the breakdown is a big part of their game. John Plumtree is assistant coach and insight into some of his posts will give you clues. In that final in Wellington they beat the Lions, playing territory and kept them pinned in their own half. They capitalized on the Lions’ errors and the inability of them to get out of their own half. Watch the game again if you don’t believe me. This template you would call “domkrag”.

      The biggest differences between NZ and SA rugby is administration (professional vs amateur), skills, coaching and like you said, continuity. Show me someone in SA who truly supports continuity. If that were the case then HM, AC, Dawie Theron, Alan Solomons, Brendan Venter and many other guys would still be coaching on some level in SA. The difference is that NZ doesn’t write off their coaches, they bring them back into the system and help them to improve. Wayne Smith, Tana Umaga and John Plumtree are a few examples.

      NZ players are adaptable in that they can play to any game plan and change it during a game. They also do the basics very well, how often do you see a NZ player knocking the ball on or missing a tackle? Then compare that to a SA player on franchise or international level. Their ability under the high ball is only rivaled by Israel Folau. They have the two best lineout jumpers in the World and their front row is immense. It’s not just their first team, they have World Class players right across the board. They do make mistakes but they recover quickly. It comes down to the structures and coaching from junior levels right up to senior level.

      The decline of SA rugby is in direct relation to the loss of players and coaching resources, a Currie Cup that can no longer stand with the ITM Cup or any other Premier competition around the world. Not even the Pro14. It also coincides with the misadministration of almost all unions and bodies in SA rugby. Bankrupt unions through corruption and poor administration will affect the game all round. The rot starts from the top. If you don’t believe me, then see how many top players and coaches have left SA, it started around 2010-2011.

      You are probably going to use the Lions as an exception to the rule. However, their “success” – one Currie Cup trophy in 5 years is hardly anything to be excited about. Let’s called it growth rather than success. They have grown into a competitive union, not a champion one over a 5 year period. Why? Their commitment to identifying, nurturing the talent from the junior ranks and succession planning. Their administration is also very good from Kevin de Klerk to Rudolf Straueli. Also, they have had some brilliant coaches over the last few years. It’s much less to do with game plans than the above mentioned factors. You do touch on them in your post, but not enough.

      • Herman Schroder?

        We are basically in agreement here on the administrative problems in SA but I still stick by my NZ game plan argument. Sure the teams adopt different tactics at different times but they can all play expansively when the match situation demands it. They do so via their skill levels being nurtured at a young age with expansive rugby the go to option. When they progress through their systems they already have the skills and nous to play it and by the time they get to SR they are primed and ready. Sure the team may adopt a different approach at times but they are always ready to fire. Why do you think the top 4 sides on the overall log are always NZ teams and of course the Lions ? It’s simply because they score the most tries.

        In SA we are the complete opposite. From grass roots onward’s it’s beef and not much else. Players and coaches remain in their comfort zones and do not progress. Take Jessie Kriel for instance. He still battles to slot in naturally when the game becomes expansive. A lot of criticism has been aimed at Jantjies in the past two years. At the Lions the players are attuned to his style of play and they are coached to play off him. In the Bok setup under AC he was surrounded by carthorses most of the time so when he tried something he did not get the same instinctive support from players not schooled in the finer arts. But klap Jantjies is always the clarion call. Shameful.

        Your take on the Lions is also a bit off sides. If they had beaten the Crusaders at Emirates last year ( which they probably would have done if the red card wasn’t issued by Jackass ) then what would you have said ? I know it’s moot but if a team is only to be judged if they win a competition and then denigrated for being runners up three times in a row is that really an objective response from you ? I think not.

        In any case in the SA context they have won just about everything on offer in SR the toughest club / Franchise comp in the world, so they say. I don’t count the current watered down CC comp by the way even if the Lions did win it. But in the past three to four years in SR they have lost only one match ( self inflicted ) in 23 against the other Franchises. If a strength against strength CC comp was held over that period then by implication they should have won three ‘real’ CC titles.

        I agree the structures are in place at the Lions but the players must still go out and do it on the park. Methinks you should be doffing your cap to them not belittling their achievements which ranks head and shoulders above the rest. The difference being of course the expansive game plan which the others still seem to battle to embrace to this very day.

        For those who wan’t to accuse me of beating the drum for the Lions once again please remember I was challenged by Dean and have reacted as any loyal supporter would. Cheers.

  • Herman Schroder?

    A lot of valid comments here but I fail to see the most obvious one mentioned. The NZ setup is based on one basic principle continuity within a standardized game plan for the whole country. It’s far easier for not only players to slot into their roles as they move up but coaches as well. In SA our playing styles are fragmented and coaches who have never being able to master the more demanding art of modern rugby have been found wanting.

    Alistair Coetzee the prime example although Heyneke Meyer just as guilty. Coetzee based his Stormers game plan on defence and hardly anything else. As soon as he came across teams with more skills to fleck open ( pardon the pun ) the defence his game plan crumbled. Heyneke had the same problem although he did have a more expansive approach in his earlier years which however deteriorated as time went by. It was finally ruthlessly exposed by Japan in 2015 and the rest is history. He called on a group of golden oldies to go back to basics ( dom krag ) and it failed completely.

    The problem these two encountered plus Fleck and Du Preez is that they were schooled in a highly conservative way of playing and coaching. Due to the success of the Bulls and the Boks in 2009 / 2010 the style was ingrained in their psyche and they simply couldn’t adapt to the more demanding skills required to coach the expansive game. Frans Ludeke typifies this with two SR titles up to 2010 and from then only going from bad to worse.

    The point I’m making is that passing the experience from one ‘game plan challenged’ coach like Coetzee to a guy like Fleck is basically a case of the blind leading the blind and it showed in the results. The problem is immense because the required nous and skill levels of both players and coaches are far more demanding in the modern era than playing or coaching to a conservative pattern. Jake is right succession planning is a must but it must be the enlightened teaching the trainees not throwbacks from the failed last 8 to 9 years.

    This leaves us in a very unique and regrettable situation. Apart from the Lions ( I had to bring them in somewhere, lol ) who of the current batch of coaches can honestly say they have the nous to effectively coach the multifaceted game plan so wonderfully expressed in the AB set up ? Swys has done an admirable job at the Lions and Rassie has had the wisdom to bring him into the Bok setup but will he be given free reign and the skillful players to execute what he knows ? Only time will tell.

    As far as the Franchises are concerned they have no choice, they must go shopping overseas for suitable enlightened coaches no matter the cost. Succession planning can then start in earnest and we can only hope that the spin offs will come sooner rather than later. Cheers.

  • Nick

    No Herman. Nz teams do not all have a standardised game plan that the whole country plays to.

    Not only is it patently obvious when you watch their different franchises play, but their is absolutely no evidence for this theory at all. Please inform me of any specific directives in this regard if I have got this wrong.

    Do they have a consistent understanding of the skills and conditioning that players need to progress? Absolutely, but you are confusing this enviable system for a uniform ‘game plan’.

  • Herman Schroder?

    I think you are taking my post too literally Nic. In NZ they concentrate on developing skills and vision from an early age which enables them to utilize these factors as they proceed through the ranks. Their Franchises can all play to the demands of the day but the players are attuned to attack when the situation warrants and instinctively apply those skills to complete the task. In other words they are all on the same wavelength. Why do you think that when a player debuts for NZ he slots in without too much of a problem ?

    Here we have the opposite as I mentioned in my post. Concentrating on weight at school level and the pattern follows right through to senior rugby. I’ve asked this question before and perhaps you can help me here. Why could the Lions evolve to the extent they did and yet in the same time period the other Franchises hardly evolved at all ? Imo apart from the administrative differences what really set the Lions apart was their game plan with players hand picked to play it. There was nothing to stop the other Franchises doing the same but they preferred to hang onto their conservative no frills no risk mindset. Some have tried to change but up to now with very little success.

    This is also why we struggle at test level. Test rugby is instinctive as I’ve said before but players must have the natural instincts and coaching to react accordingly. A recent example is the role Willie and Faf played in our three wins this year. Pollard was not able to be the play maker while chasing the scoreboard and it was left to those two to pull the cat out of the bag. Apart from Rassie’s other problems he has to choose like minded players to weld into a cohesive unit capable of scoring tries which is a prerequisite to winning tests these days. Let’s see how far he get’s with the players currently at his disposal. Cheers.

  • Nick

    Yes Herman. Game development is different to a game plan as such. The former aims to improve the ability of players and teams over a longer period of time whereas a game plan is a specific strategy for a specific team/game in the short term.

    Intechanging the terms means saying two completely different things.
    Or not so?

  • gerhard van tonder gerhard van tonder

    Says an age group coach before he became the Springbok Coach.

    What SA Rugby can’t afford is to loose the Rugby IP of neither Fourie and Victor. So Bulls bring these guys into your system and let Jake eat shushi.

  • Billy

    Agreed Gerhard, when will Jake learn that we don’t need his opinions in SA.

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