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Diversity, strength, strategy giving Boks the edge​

Opinion
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Siya Kolisi celebrates after scoring against France at in Durban on Saturday. Photo: EPA/Gavin Barker
Diversity, strength, strategy giving Boks the edge​, writes Murray Williams.


Cape  Town - The sight on TV was magnificent.

Poetry. Power.

Rumbling up the field, in the Rotorua Stadium, was 1 000 years of history in harmony.

An amalgam of ancient and modern. Of ambassadors from 600 islands which make up the land of the Maori.

Representing the Maori All Blacks were the descendants of settlers from Polynesia, Europe and the rest of the world. From far and wide.

They’d had only 10 days together, but they shared a common bond. Team selection has one criterion only: Maori “whakapapa” – genealogy. The players’ long lists of other differences matter not.

So when that stabbing spear was raised on Saturday, to begin their “Timatanga” war dance, the 22 men laid down their challenge in astonishing sync.

One could argue the British and Irish Lions’ unity was even more impressive. Four different countries – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales. A month of intensive unifying had forged their moving parts into a brutal machine, capable of demolishing two of the world’s most famed sides: the legendary Crusaders, and now the feared warriors, the Maori All Blacks.

So what might we learn from this?

Let’s look back on Springboks’ history, and their context.

The apartheid state’s motto was “Unity is Strength”. Except it was dishonest – for it cared only about unity between certain people. It was narrow, inward-looking, fearful, exclusionary.

The new 1994 motto is profoundly different: “Diversity is strength”.

Welcoming, embracing, celebratory. It unlocks a treasure-trove of resources. “Diversity” seeks out the “other”, the nuanced, the complementary, the magical – the power of partnership.

This is so often our challenge. An unwillingness to partner, through siloed, self-absorbed thinking, is as dangerous as an enemy at our door. For as Sun Tzu famously advised in The Art of War: “If his forces are united, separate them.”

Inversely, the role of the coach, the leader, is the uniter of diversity.

SuperSport studio commentator Naas Botha, in a rare moment of clarity, once said: “By the time you're a Springbok, you shouldn't need coaching.”

He meant, of course, players’ individual skills should already be sublime.The role of the national coach should be singular: to unite diversified excellence, behind strategy.

To forge unity from difference. Then galvanise into common purpose.

This is the transition we need.

Until recently, the Boks had “Backline” and “Forwards” assistant coaches. That’s old, dead thinking. Uniting groups of resources – for what?

Today, Bok assistants Brendan Venter and Franco Smith tutor the team in “Defence” and “Attack”.

Diversity, strength, strategy.

Now that’s leadership (post-1994).

* Williams’ “Shooting from the Lip” column appears in the Cape Argus every Monday.

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