Let’s get off our own islands and start working together if we want the Springboks to play a more attacking style of rugby.
That was the message from former Bok assistant coach and current Western Province director of rugby, Gert Smal, ahead of the two-day SA Rugby coaching indaba that will take place at Newlands today and tomorrow.
Saru, at the request of Bok coach Allister Coetzee, have organised a think tank to discuss “current playing trends across a wide range of areas of game play, and seek alignment within SA Rugby on ways to ensure rugby excellence and continuous improvement to remain a top rugby-playing nation,” according to an official statement.
The organisation will also be “addressing longer-term interventions to assist the Springbok team” during the gathering that will be facilitated by Brendan Venter and attended by the Bok coaching and Saru high-performance staff, the six Super Rugby coaches and CEOs, as well ex-players such as John Smit and Bok mentors Carel du Plessis and Ian McIntosh.
Saru intend to emerge from the indaba with a concrete plan on the way forward, with four main focus areas: collaboration between the provinces and the national set-up, player welfare, skills and fitness.
But the manner in which the Boks and by extension the Super Rugby franchises play the game is set to be at the top of the agenda, particularly after Coetzee’s team lost 57-15 to the All Blacks in Durban on October 8.
The previous week’s 18-10 win over the Wallabies papered over the cracks as the Boks went back to their traditional style of keeping things tight and kicking penalties via veteran flyhalf Morné Steyn.
That approach will never work against New Zealand, and probably not against England and Wales on the upcoming end-of-year tour either.
There needs to be a will to break the shackles of a conservative mindset, and Smal believes that is attainable.
Asked if the Boks would be able to embrace a more attacking game plan, the former loose forward said: “Ja, I think they can. That’s the challenge, where we need to start working together. If we are standing on our own islands and not working for the betterment of South African rugby, then we are busy with the wrong stuff.
“Then we are just looking after our own kingdoms. It’s important that the organisations work together as well – SA Rugby with the smaller unions, and vice versa.
“Get everything aligned and see what works for South Africa and what won’t work (in terms of playing style). We must make good rugby decisions and very sound financial decisions.
“We must see how we can get confidence back in South African rugby – I think that’s the most important thing. It’s quite important that we put egos away and work for the big picture...”
While New Zealand’s overall philosophy of putting the All Blacks first should be the way to go – something that is not always the case in South Africa with the Boks – Smal cautions against just totally copying the Kiwi way of doing things.
He feels that one of the major issues locally is keeping the top players and coaches in the country, and for that, there needs to be a holistic approach, as well as finding alternative ways to bring more financial muscle into the South African game.
With the rand unable to compete with the pound, euro and big deals in Japan, privatising the six Super Rugby franchises may be the way to go, or encouraging third-party player deals as they do in New Zealand and Australia.
WP and the Stormers have already started going down the path of having outside influences – coach Robbie Fleck recently travelled overseas to link up with coaches in New Zealand, Australia and England, including Eddie Jones.
Smal has seen the difference in Fleck already.
“Even now with Fleckie, we did a couple of things with his personal development, and having taken him out of the system, I can see the energy and new ideas … he can sit back now and look at the bigger picture at the same time, which is very exciting.”