Currie Cup / 28 July 2019, 11:00am / Mike Greenaway
The Sharks are mercifully into the post-Robert du Preez coaching era but now the pressure is on incoming chief executive Eduard Coetzee to get it right in the long term as the Durban franchise shakes off the depressing yolk of the “Roach Coach”.
Coetzee (and outgoing CEO Gary Teichmann) have already steered the Sharks into harmonious waters by sacking the obstructionist Du Preez and appointing for the Currie Cup the personable Sean Everitt, who is everything that the humourless, dour Du Preez was not.
In turning towards Everitt, a home-grown Durban product who played the game (extremely well as a centre for College Rovers), Coetzee has got so much right in that Everitt has lived and continues to breathe the culture of the Sharks.
Du Preez, as we know a former player at the Sharks in the first half of the 1990s, just did not grasp what the Sharks are about, in my opinion.
The Sharks are about fun, frivolity, jois de vivre, while at the same time ruthlessly endeavouring to win every match they play.
The Sharks are about free enterprise, they are about throwing the kitchen sink at a game without fear of censure. Under Du Preez the Sharks looked to me like a team that was terrified of getting reprimanded by the coach.
And it was telling when returning Sharks legend JP Pietersen told the media this week that his primary job is to remove the fear of failure from the players, and to engender the culture of the olden day Banana Boys.
And that is pretty much what Coetzee had in mind when he enticed Pietersen back to the Sharks.
“Ed wants me to mentor the youngsters. He wants me to help get the message across to them from the coaches,” Pietersen said. “It is about getting them to understand the game plan and what it means to play for the Sharks because with players leaving earlier and earlier for overseas, the culture of the Sharks has got a bit lost as there are not enough senior guys to share their experience.”
Pietersen said the culture of the Sharks is different to any other union and needs to be cherished.
“It is a special union that will give you everything you need to realise your potential. They will invest in you. It is a warm environment where everybody is equal and you feel at home. When you put the Sharks jersey on you must never doubt yourself; you must believe you are going to win, even if you are 20 points behind. That is how it has always been at the Sharks - you fight because you are a family.
“I am telling the youngsters: if you make a mistake, it is not the end of the world. There must be no fear to get the ball. In 2005, no senior player shouted at me, there was just encouragement, and that is what I want to do now.”
I feel that if the Sharks are to grow the culture Pietersen is speaking of, they need not look too much beyond what they already have in Everitt, Nick Easter and David Williams, the streamlined unit that succeeded the overblown staff under Du Preez.
One person I would suggest the Sharks look to supplement Everitt’s team is Grant Bashford, the Durban North resident who has a wealth of Super Rugby experience after having spent seven years on the coaching staff of John Plumtree.
Promisingly, Coetzee last week told the media the following: “We want to be the place where young players want to play, and treat them well. We want to give them the best coaching in a great environment.
“We definitely want to play a brand of rugby that will bring people back but I’m nervous to say that, because everyone says it. I would rather have a group of players who are happy, content and have balanced lives... and I think the fruit of all that will be good rugby.”