When you think of Gert Smal, you may get a picture of a big, imposing man, but someone who is quiet and doesn’t say much. A serious man, with a constant frown on his face. Someone who wouldn’t trust you, and someone you don’t want to mess with.
But nine years is a long time, and it’s even longer in the world of rugby. Smal was yesterday presented as the new director of rugby, and it was not the dour man who left Cape rugby after that disastrous 75-14 defeat to the Bulls at Loftus.
Instead, it was a new-look Smal, complete with designer spectacles, who entered the WP boardroom at Newlands yesterday, looking fresh and even cracking a smile.
When he started speaking, he was honest and didn’t beat around the bush – at least that admirable trait is still present. He said many things that would’ve sounded like a godsend to many Stormers fans – that the attack was one of the main problems with the current team, that the incumbent coaches would have to “show their mettle” during the rest of the Super Rugby campaign.
And best of all: that he wanted them to play “a winning 15-man game that’s unpredictable. The type of game where players can express themselves. The typical Western Province brand, and the Stormers brand”.
I must admit that I wasn’t sure that Smal was the right man who could inspire Province and the Stormers to new heights when his name was first mentioned. He left Cape rugby on a sour note in 2005 with that 75-14 Loftus defeat, and appeared to be a stern-faced coach who had run out of ideas.
Perhaps spending nearly seven years in Ireland as that national team’s forwards coach has given Smal a fresh perspective on the game and he himself said yesterday that he returns to WP as a better coach.
But maybe the most important thing about Smal’s appointment is the fact that he is a WP man through and through. He pointed out yesterday that “I know the province, I know how it functions, I know what makes it tick”. And that could be the key to the future success of the Stormers and WP.
As highly-rated as Rassie Erasmus was upon his appointment as Stormers coach in time for the 2008 season, he found it difficult to deal with the external pressures of Cape rugby, which encompasses the enormous expectations of the supporters, the demands from the administrators to win trophies and the public and media scrutiny.
That was partly due to the fact that he wasn’t from Cape Town and wasn’t a “WP man” as such, having made his name as a player and coach at Free State. The same could be said for Allister Coetzee, who is from Port Elizabeth and an Eastern Province stalwart. He has become ever more cautious with his team’s gameplan as the years have gone by, and the conservative tactics have caught up with the team.
Yes, Smal first emerged as a player at the old Western Transvaal, but he moved to the Cape in the 1980s and has been based here ever since, apart from his stints in Ireland, Italy and East London when he coached Border. His WP and Stormers teams played largely enterprising rugby until things went south in 2005. And he often made odd selections too.
Nick Mallett was also a WP man who was the first director of rugby at the union after Smal left in 2005, and things didn’t work out. But at least Smal’s arrival shows that Thelo Wakefield and his colleagues are doing something about the poor state that the Stormers have found themselves in over the last 12 months. Smal has talked the talk, so let’s see if he can walk the walk.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
@Notshe6 (after he scored a try on debut against the Reds): Thanks for the support guys I really do appreciate it was just unlucky that we could not pull that one through
WHO TO FOLLOW
@NizaamCarr08: The Stormers loose forward was one of the few players to enhance his reputation against the Reds.
w Follow me on Twitter: @ashfakmohamed
w Send us your views: email@example.com - Cape Times