The Rugby Coaching Indaba this week will not make any difference in the short-term, but that does not mean it’s a bad thing for Springbok rugby.
Brendan Venter is a superb facilitator, he will ask questions and get the involvement of all the coaches, while Pieter Kruger is highly professional and used to dealing with these sort of gatherings. So I’m sure they will get to where they want to, I’m confident they will go in the right direction.
There will be discussions about a national philosophy of playing, the way Allister Coetzee envisages the Springboks should play and the skill set that needs to be developed to go with it.
Skill sets are what I feel should be discussed most. It’s what we as the Springbok coaching group between 2012 and 2015 felt was lacking at national level – things like high-ball work, box-kicking, lineout throwing, goalkicking etc.
We desperately need an individual skills programme for elite performance and high-quality skills coaches. Maybe we need a director of rugby, but without the right contractual model he can’t prescribe to the franchises, he can only influence the contracted Springboks. And Allister Coetzee did not get the job until mid-April, so what went on between last year’s World Cup and then?
I know Johann van Graan, who is the one assistant coach who remained in place, did go to the SuperRugby franchises to see what was going on there, but how New Zealand rugby works is that the national coaches even work with the franchises regularly.
In Heyneke Meyer’s time we had a good relationship with all the SuperRugby unions and we would pay two two-day visits to each franchise every year. So there was a lot of contact and from my point of view I knew all the defence coaches, how they coached, their strategies and how individuals defended, how they folded, their line-speed etc.
We would share information and how we saw the Springboks going forward, on where we were at that moment, and it was a two-way engagement so we would touch base about individual players and we would hear from them how they felt about certain players. Everyone was very honest about what needed to be worked on.
In 2013 I spent two weeks at the Sharks helping them with their kicking structures and I twice went and helped the Cheetahs, who changed a few things and made the playoffs for the first time.
So there was a good exchange of information and it worked out really well.
But it’s difficult to prescribe set things to the franchises because different teams have different strengths and abilities. If a team doesn’t have a good box-kicker at scrumhalf then they’re not going to spend a lot of time with the wings helping them to compete on the high ball. But every team needs to feel safe under the high ball.
Every coach has his own style and has to do whatever is right for his team. For example, at the Kubota Spears we have a close relationship with the Hurricanes and they play slightly differently to the Highlanders or Crusaders.
What’s really interesting about the Hurricanes is the amount of work done with the individual player and his skill set. New Zealand’s skills are highly developed because the players are helped with their skills, the resources are there for individuals around the country.
But skills work needs to be driven by the coach, he needs to be on top of the players’ individual skills. In 2012, I can remember Malcolm Marx didn’t make the SA U20s and Dawie Theron said to me that his lineout throwing was the major problem. So Malcolm would come through every week with Robbie Coetzee and work with me on that. What work has been done individually with him since then? I don’t know.
For four years we’ve had the High-Performance Mobi Unit in place, but what work has been done on Elton Jantjies’ right foot? He has a tremendous left foot, but it would be great if he could be two-footed like Jonny Wilkinson, it would mean he would not be under nearly as much pressure. Can Rohan Janse van Rensburg or Jesse Kriel kick? What is being done about that?
Dave Alred helped us in 2015 with the fielding of high balls, we put that structure in place.
The major problem is that the SuperRugby teams all play differently and the core of the Springbok team is no longer in South Africa, in the current 30-man squad, not many of them are locally-based all year round. The core values need to be kept the same so that a young player can seamlessly move through the system and be coached in the same fashion. We have to find the right balance in terms of game plan, there’s no point in the SA U20s playing a certain way and defending a certain way that is different to the senior side. Likewise if the SA U20s play a passing game with width and the Springboks are playing kicking and territory.
The coach can have a say in the Springboks and the SA U20s because they are contracted sides, and the higher the stakes, the more pressure there is on those games.
The All Blacks are on a different level to everybody at the moment and the Springboks are ranked fourth, but if we weren’t upset by their performance in Durban, if we just accept that, then there is something wrong with our rugby.
New Zealand played well, and as usual ran away with the game in the last 20 minutes, but what the match really underlined was the Springboks’ lack of ambition. They just relied on their set-piece and Morne Steyn kicking penalties and drop goals. Seeing as the All Blacks average 38 points per game, Morne would have had to break the world record for penalties and drop goals for the Springboks to have won!
But most Springbok coaches have been through something similar, because the expectation is so high for excellence. Hopefully the indaba will result in more excellence in our rugby going forward.
Of course, the disappointment of the Springboks’ performance has been put into perspective this week by the shock passing of Munster coach and former Ireland loose forward star Anthony Foley, and I would like to pass my condolences to his family and loved ones.
John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.