The Springboks need all the help they can get
Recently the Bok management team requested that the defensive coach from Western Province Rugby, Jacques Nienaber join the Springboks to have a ‘bit of a chat’ about the defensive pattern of the Springbok team. After an afternoon with Nienaber they then asked if he would be able to assist them by taking on a consulting role with the Springboks, apparently pretty impressed by what he had to say.
Western Province Rugby had other ideas and have since said that they cannot let him do this as he is still under contract, that it would be impossible as they are in the middle of the current Currie Cup season and that the disruption would be too big. A fair comment but are Western Province Rugby putting their own interests ahead of the Springboks?
Jacques Nienaber started out for the Cheetahs as a physio and then fitness advisor before moving on to become one of the best defensive coaches in South Africa. He followed Rassie Erasmus to Western Province and has since taken on the defensive coach position with great results. In the Super 14 the Stormers had the best defensive record throughout the competition and this year in the Currie Cup, WP have already established themselves as the tightest defensive team in the first half of the competition.
WP Rugby are not keen to release Nienaber as he is in the middle of his contract but perhaps are even less keen to share their defensive ‘secrets’ to members of the Bok squad. Their thinking is that the Bulls and Sharks players in the squad could then take these (super-duper) secretive secrets back to their home unions.
Naas Botha has said that he agrees with WP Rugby and that Pieter de Villiers should have hired Nienaber earlier. It is all well and good to make this statement but to be fair to the coach, it was never apparent that the Bokke would struggle defensively in this year’s Tri-Nations. The squad was largely unchanged from last year and the defensive pattern the same.
When the Tri-Nations started the Springboks were mostly fancied to retain the trophy based on the very successful game plan of 2009 with a good kick-chase game accompanied by uncompromising defence. What unfortunately happened is that the Bokke slipped first time tackles and were very average on defense, leaking 10 tries in 3 games but to expect Pieter de Villiers to predict the this before the season is unreasonable by anyone’s measure (except perhaps the South African public).
The Springboks have not looked like their old selves in many facets of the game this year, no more so than on defence and in this regard the coach has tried to correct the problem. PdV for all of his failings does seek help when it is needed, bringing in Percy Montgomery, Os du Randt and in this instance trying to bring in Nienaber only to be denied by WP Rugby. Would it be too much for Nienaber to take a few days off WP training in the next 3 weeks to assist the Springboks? Would this mean that all of WP’s defensive strengths would be exposed? Is provincialism becoming more important than the national team?
This year almost all of the top Springboks were over played in the Super 14, with the Bulls being the only team to rest their top players before the Semi Finals. Every single Super 14 coach played their best players in every game in a bid to win the S14 trophy, which is understandable when you take into account the results driven rugby viewing public. However this was to the detriment of the Springboks and there seems to be no discourse or common goal when it comes to the national side.
The S14 coaches should identify and list their top players with an eye to the future and submit these lists to the Bok management team. The selectors can then identify 40 – 45 or so players both established and up and coming. These players can then be closely monitored throughout the season, rested accordingly and played in the positions that the Springbok management want them to play.
Graham Henry meets with the S14 New Zealand team’s coaches before the season and basically tells them where to play specific players. When the S14 is over and the All Black team selected, the players selected are all picked in the positions they have been specialising in for the previous few months (something the Bok coaches still need to get right) and it shows in their performances. New Zealand Super 14 teams know what kind of rugby the All Blacks are looking to play in the international season and make allowances accordingly, something which works for them every year.
How great would it be if the provincial coaches kept the interests of the Springbok team and individual Springbok players in mind throughout the Super 14 and Currie Cup. With a year to go until the RWC2011 it is important that everyone involved in rugby in South Africa get on the same page in order to give ourselves the best chance at retaining the trophy. A trophy that does more to bring us together as a country, than winning the S14 or Tri-Nations titles combined.