Johannesburg - The Lions’ player strategy in the Currie Cup has not worked out this season, but there will still be many positives to glean from the tournament and the season, Lions Rugby Company CEO Rudolf Straeuli assured the team’s supporters and stakeholders yesterday.
The Lions are due to play the table-topping Bulls tomorrow at Loftus Versveld (kick-off 5pm), and while their Jukskei neighbours are flying high, the Joburgers find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table, winless after nine games.
Nevertheless, Straeuli is taking a pragmatic, long-term view by firstly praising the work of Sigma Lions head coach Mzwakhe Nkosi, and also accepting that there will need to be change in the tactics of the union regarding the premier domestic competition next season.
“We are re-looking our system,” Straeuli revealed in an interview with Independent Media at the union’s Doornfontein base.
“Certain areas have been done well by Mzwakhe, like the juniors that have come through – Quan Horn, Ruan Venter – they are all good players and have been signed on for four years. That is something that is working for the Currie Cup that I will tick off.
“The same goes for (URC head coach Ivan van Rooyen) – he is growing as a coach. It was not ideal. It was not as Gert Small and Jake White,” Straeuli added, referring to the wizened think-tank of the Bulls, “who are both senior coaches”.
“I am growing two junior coaches but all the coaches that we have grown here, have gone on to higher honours. That is a part of our strategy – developing our own.”
In spite of the run of defeats in the Currie Cup, Straeuli only had high praise for Mzwakhe, revealing full confidence and admiration for the former SA Schools coach, adding that while the times are tough now in the Currie Cup, the experience will be invaluable.
Said Straeuli: “He is one of the most important coaches in our organisation.
“He is part of our procurement, our contracting, our recruitment system and he has developed and brought some unbelievable talent into the URC. We have to actually say thank you to Mzwakhe.
“Him and his management team have taken on immense pressure to actually give the guys game time. It is about him learning to coach a Currie Cup side and how to grow. Next year, we will have more experienced players and Mzwakhe will also have grown.
“Was he thrown into the deep end?" Straeuli asked with introspection.
“Yes, he was – by looking after the Under-20 side, and managing the two Varsity Cup sides with
Hugo van As (Wits) and Jonathan Mokuena (of UJ) – nobody is going into promotion/relegation there.
Mzwakhe is one of those coaches that knows all the juniors. He is not just a good scout; he is a very good coach.”
With all this in mind, the matchday 23 that will face the Bulls this weekend will in all probability consist of more senior players as the union changes tact to afford those individuals more playing time. It might be too late in the season to have a tangible impact, but it is a positive admission that could inform better results in the near future.
“Next year we won’t have this congestion with all the competitions together. Next year, we will most likely put in a URC team (in the Currie Cup) ...
“When we had breaks (in the URC), we didn’t perform well. So, we acknowledge that we have to get certain URC players ready for URC games and they have to play in the Currie Cup. Maybe we got that system wrong.
“The URC players should have played more Currie Cup, but then I would not have know about the junior players. It is a chicken and egg scenario.”
The Lions name their side to face the Bulls today.