South African rugby can have as many indabas as it likes but unless there is a fundamental mindshift away from the negative to the positive, then the Springboks will always remain stuck in the also-ran kraal.
What do we mean by positive and negative? Here is a very simple rough guide: The positive is giving SA players the freedom to be creative and enjoy the game, as well as outsmart their opponents. The negative is accentuating ways to stop opponents by spoiling their game and feeding off their mistakes.
In other words, the emphasis must shift from “how can we stop tries” to “how can we score tries”.
We have to use the All Blacks as an example because they are the benchmark, and have been for many years.
Everything the Kiwis do is based around creativity, freedom and enjoyment. They approach the game as a celebration of skill, power and speed, and all three elements are essential. Instead of chastising players for making mistakes, they laud them for creating tries.
The basics of the game (like uncompromising defence, set-pieces and astute halfbacks) are non-negotiable to them. But even those fundamentals are approached in creative and positive ways.
Only time will tell if this week’s coaching indaba will change the state of SA rugby.
SA rugby desperately needs saving. The Boks’ showings this year have been shocking, but the trouble started long before Ireland’s Incoming Tour. Red flags first appeared when the Boks lost to Wales in Cardiff, to Argentina in Durban, and to Japan at the World Cup.
An indaba can only be beneficial if they have the input of the country’s best rugby minds, past and present, to add their two cents worth in an attempt to save SA rugby and, ultimately, the Springboks.
Free State Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and Blue Bulls boss Nollis Marais will be knee-deep in preparation for the Currie Cup final on Saturday, although both have confirmed their attendance. And having the indaba in the week of the final kind of takes away from the competition’s already watered-down reputation.
And it also doesn’t help that a keen rugby brain like Nick Mallett has declined an invitation. Other former Bok coaches are also unlikely to be there.
The coaching of the national team is another obvious problem area, but with defence coach Chean Roux reportedly being relieved of his Bok duties and attack experts Swys de Bruin and Smith on Saru’s radar, it seems like some positive steps have been taken.
And then, of course, there is the long list of administrative issues. The fact that the Currie Cup has become so watered-down this year is not just because fans have all of a sudden just lost interest in the local competition. Saru only sorted out this season’s fixture schedule in the first week of the tournament, and then the playoffs were moved because it clashed with the Boks’ Test against the All Blacks at Kings Park.
The problem of SA’s top players playing overseas and their availability for the national team is another thorny issue. As is a central contracting system. There must also be a new and unequivocal commitment to transformation.
So there are many problems. But if we put on a positive game face, at least we can tackle those problems with hope.
w Wynona Louw is the rugby writer of the Cape Sports Hub. Ian Smit is the Cape Sports Hub editor and former rugby writer of the Cape Times.