Rugby / 16 October 2019, 08:30am / Jacques vd Westhuyzen
On Friday, at a little after 11am, the email dropped. It was titled “Press Release: Lions and Swys de Bruin part ways - CONFIDENTIAL.”
The information attached repeated what was said in the subject box, with a few drab quotes by Lions CEO Rudolf Straeuli and De Bruin, and the release concluded with “no further information regarding the matter will be disclosed due to the confidentiality thereof.”
So, what to make of De Bruin and the Lions “amicably” and “mutually” deciding to part ways?
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised to learn of the split.
De Bruin never quite looked comfortable in the head coach’s hot-seat after taking over from Johan Ackermann. Where Ackermann, who took charge of the Lions when they were seriously down and out in 2012 and built them up to South Africa’s premier Super Rugby side, came across as being confident in his gameplan and selections, De Bruin somehow seemed to doubt himself.
In 2018, after the Lions had reached back-to-back Super Rugby finals under Ackermann, De Bruin gave the franchise a third shot at glory by also taking the side to the final. It was one of De Bruin’s biggest accomplishments, but it was built on the back of the previous two years’ campaigns.
As head coach, De Bruin never coached the Lions in the Currie Cup, leaving the job to rookie Ivan van Rooyen, who the Lions’ big bosses in Doornfontein have seemingly backed for bigger things.
The results this year in Super Rugby were disappointing and at the end of the day coaches, players and teams are judged by their results. The Lions didn’t make the play-offs and De Bruin has opted to go, or been sacked, or he and the Lions have mutually decided that someone else should coach the side.
No reasons for De Bruin’s departure have really been given, and they’re not likely to be forthcoming. But, it certainly didn’t help De Bruin’s cause that he returned home from the Lions’ Tour of Australasia for “personal reasons”. Or were there other reasons at play, such as interference by his employers in things like gameplan and team selections?
Also, De Bruin didn’t last long as a specialist attack consultant for the Springboks - the reason why he didn’t coach in the Currie Cup. Just weeks out from the start of the World Cup he quit his job.
Apparently, De Bruin has seen doctors and medical specialists and is believed to be healthy and well. Where he pops up next will be interesting ... perhaps at Gloucester in England, as Ackermann’s right-hand man? Maybe he’s best suited to be an assistant, and not head coach, but either way he’s a quality coach who knows a thing or two about rugby and specifically attack. The Lions benefited hugely from his work and his vision.
Anyway, after the departure three years ago of Ackermann, the departure of promising young coach Joey Mongalo and the departure of several high profile players in the last two years, and now De Bruin, the Lions are seemingly on the mend again. They’re definitely not where they were in 2012/13, but they’ve got some work to do to remain a competitive force in Southern Hemisphere rugby.
And first things first, they need a new coach. Or do they have one in Van Rooyen? Or, will Straeuli venture back into the coaching ranks and play a part next year?
Then there’s Warren Whiteley, who has made it clear his future lies in coaching. He already was quite heavily involved with the Currie Cup team and may continue to learn and grow in a coaching role in 2020, but hopefully while he’s still playing because one gets the feeling the Lions will need him badly next season.
After a wonderfully calm and rather successful few years, which saw the Lions play in three successive Super Rugby finals, feature prominently in the Currie Cup and several players become Springboks, the Lions are again facing interesting and challenging times.