Cape Town - 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 in Newlands on Wednesday and Thursday.
SA Rugby, 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 SA Rugby 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.
Independent Media understands that SA Rugby want to emerge from the indaba with a concrete plan on the way forward, with four main focus areas being 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 received a 57-15 drubbing at the hands of 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 againstEngland and Wales on the upcoming November tour either.
There needs to be a will among Coetzee and his coaching staff, as well as the rest of the Super Rugby teams to break off 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, in terms of what we want to achieve in South African rugby.”
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.
“Sometimes a bad thing must happen before we start reacting to it, and it’s quite important that we as South African coaches work together and see how we can make SA rugby strong in future,” Smal said.
“There are challenges for each and every province in different ways, and it’s difficult to compare it with Ireland, New Zealand and even Argentina - as they have gone the way of how New Zealand do things by having central contracting and they also contract their provincial coaches, top players and fitness and conditioning coaches.
“So if we want to make any strides in future, we have to see how we can be not just on par with New Zealand, but that we can take them on - so that people would like to come and do some personal development in South Africa, and not us just going to other countries.
“Look at our structures and see how do you make a union effective. But you need money for it, and you’ve got to look at your structures and see how are you going to create that money? So, those are a lot of discussions that need to take place.”
WP and the Stormers have already started going down the path of having outside influences with regards to coaching, with Robbie Fleck having gone overseas recently to link up with coaches in New Zealand, Australia and England, including Eddie Jones.
Former Blues attack coach Paul Feeney also spent 10 days at the WP training centre in Bellville recently to engage with the coaches and players.
And Smal has seen the difference already upon Fleck’s return. “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.”