PRETORIA – There is a coaching crisis in South Africa rugby and it is evident in the performances, or rather lack of, from our Super Rugby franchises.
How can it be that a country like ours, rich with player resources and infrastructure at all levels only has one team - the Lions - in the Super Rugby semi-finals?
If it is not the players and/or the lack of resources, be it financial or infrastructure-related kind, then the only plausible reason to why South African rugby finds itself at sixes and sevens is the poor coaching at our disposal.
I’ve been surprised at how Bulls coach John Mitchell has been criticised and lambasted by some of my colleagues and others who consider themselves rugby pundits, all because of where the Bulls find themselves at the moment - they finished last in the South African Conference, behind the Stormers based on points difference and 12th in the overall standings.
Yes, the men from the capital have not covered themselves in glory since winning their last Super Rugby title in 2010 but not all, if any, of their woes should be blamed on New Zealander Mitchell.
Mitchell inherited what had been a sinking ship long before Nollis Marais took over from Frans Ludeke.
Obviously, there is an expectation of Mitchell to turn things around at Loftus Versfeld and based on the performances on the field, there has been a tangible change, even though the results don’t reflect it.
Anyone who knows anything about rugby will agree that the Bulls are playing a good brand of rugby and had it not been for injuries and a lack of depth, then their results could have turned out differently.
But that is not the case and Mitchell finds himself being lumped with the rest of the failed South African coaches, like the Stormers’ Robbie Fleck and Robert du Preez of the Sharks.
I say failed because unlike Mitchell, who is in his first season with the Bulls, Fleck and Du Preez have had enough time with their respective teams and are blessed with more experienced and probably even better players than Mitchell.
But Fleck and Du Preez have failed to take their teams beyond the quarter-finals for two consecutive years and yet it doesn’t seem like there will be any repercussions for them.
And this is exactly what is hurting South African rugby, the way in which coaches seemingly abdicate their responsibilities and other reasons are looked to just to cover up on their shortcomings.
It was disheartening to see the Sharks players look lost at sea in Christchurch in their quarter-final game against the Crusaders on Saturday and most of them are the very same players who did so well for the Springboks under the mentorship of Rassie Erasmus earlier this season.
Why couldn’t these players, who had performed so well when faced with one of the top teams on the planet in England last month, show the same ruthlessness on attack and execution when it mattered the most against the Crusaders?
And that has been the case with the Sharks all season long and more so since Du Preez took over the reins, the Durban side lack the bite they used to have in the past and this is indicative of the rumoured discontent in the squad.
Fleck finds himself in the same boat, unable to take the Stormers anywhere and having recently being accused of undermining his assistant Paul Treu.
The Stormers woes under Fleck are well documented and in any normal rugby landscape, the former Springbok centre should have made way for other coaches.
It is not like there is a dire need for competent and qualified coaches in the country but the bonds of friendship and patronage seem stronger than the need to put the right people in the right jobs.
The very same Treu, who made the claims of being undermined in the Stormers system, is highly experienced, not only as a former player, but has previously coached two national teams and holds a Master’s degree.
There are many coaches with similar credentials as Treu but are being denied the opportunities to coach and have to serve as water boys and lackeys to individuals less competent and qualified than them.
The obsession with mediocrity and the inability to see the world beyond their self-imposed blinkers by the amateur administrators and others of their ilk in power further deepen the coaching crisis that shouldn’t be.