New Western Province director of rugby Gert Smal’s vision is to see the Cape teams play “a typical WP and Stormers brand of rugby” and for the players “to express themselves on and off the field”.
And with the Stormers struggling in 14th position on the Super Rugby log with just one win in six matches, and having scored just nine tries – the equal lowest with the Crusaders – Smal intends getting his hands dirty on the training field as well by dealing with the “burning issue about the attack”.
Smal was unveiled by WP Rugby Union president Thelo Wakefield yesterday at a press conference at Newlands, and the former Springbok assistant coach stated that his new position was “more than just a job” as he has had strong ties as a player and coach to Province over the years.
With regards to Allister Coetzee’s role, Wakefield said yesterday: “The position of Allister Coetzee will remain as is. He will remain as the senior professional coach, and will report to Gert Smal.”
But Smal said that the team management would have to prove that they deserve to remain in their respective roles during the current Super Rugby campaign. Asked whether Coetzee would stay as WP Currie Cup coach or be replaced, Smal said: “I want to assess it, and I have meetings with all the coaches next week to see what they are struggling with. It’s quite important that over the next couple of weeks they show their mettle, I said that to them today as well. Nobody is going to be fired now, at the moment. So it’s important to give them the support and give them opportunities, and see exactly what they are struggling with.
“Because sometimes you just look at a team and you just see the results, but you don’t know exactly all the dynamics that go around it – what makes it work and what doesn’t make it work. I will make a proper assessment, so I don’t want to make unnecessary, drastic decisions.”
Wakefield said that Smal’s appointment was part of a WP high performance strategic plan that had been discussed in January, and was due to be completed by June.
He added that Smal was not a “quick-fix solution” to the position the Stormers are in at the moment, and will rather be a strategic role where he will be responsible for contracting and recruitment at the union, while all coaches will report to him. He will be based at the WP high performance centre in Bellville.
Smal said that he had a “quick meeting” with the team’s coaches Coetzee, Matt Proudfoot and Robbie Fleck yesterday morning to touch base and discuss his role.
When asked if he would be prepared to do actual coaching on the field, Smal said: “If needed, yes most probably. I’ve got a fair amount of experience coaching as well, but it’s a massive amount of work behind the scenes, looking at the other structures. I want the coaches to take responsibility to coach the team as best they can. But we will obviously address some burning issues that come out from the public as well.”
But with the Stormers having to get ready immediately to take on the Waratahs at Newlands on Saturday, Smal may have a hand in the preparation this week, citing the problems on attack as an area that needed to be addressed. “It’s a burning issue about the attack, and that’s definitely a thing we have to address at some stage – as quickly as possible as well, and not just at some stage. It’s just important for me that you don’t confuse the players now. If you want to change a lot of things now, you will make the players completely confused and the whole competition will be a disaster,” he said.
“Anything you want to bring in now must be done very gradually. It’s important that they get their energies back, prepare well and get the momentum that they need.”
Smal said he would be open to bringing in former WP players as consultants. “We are quite fortunate in the Western Cape to have a fair amount of coaching intellect. If need be, I will definitely want to just touch base with them.” It wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone like Carel du Plessis involved again, as he was the assistant coach to Smal during his previous term at the Stormers between 2003 and 2005.
The Stormers’ attacking game has been one of their most serious shortcomings under Coetzee’s watch, and Smal wants to change the team’s approach in time to come. “What I would like to see is that we play the typical Western Province brand, and the Stormers brand, if I may say so. But that’s going to take some work to get through, because players have been coached now for the past 10 years in a very structured way. So it is how we are going to get the players to have the skills to be able to do that, that’s going to be the challenge also,” he said.
“A winning 15-man game that’s unpredictable. The type of game where players can express themselves. It’s easier said than done. If you talk about a 15-man game, what does that mean? Winning, what does that mean? Unpredictability ... For me, it’s important that players can express themselves, on the field and off the field.”
In terms of player recruitment, Smal may already be making an impact, as the Cape Times understands that the Stormers are trying to bring back former WP and Stormers lock Quinn Roux from Ireland due to the current lock crisis.
Roux left WP in June 2012 after making his Super Rugby debut in that same month. He initially signed a one-year deal with Leinster, and extended that by two years in 2013, but has been hit by injuries. - Cape Times