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?