It is no secret that the Springboks have struggled to find form recently, conceding one record loss after another just when they looked to be improving.

Many fans may have been left wondering if this is a new era of decline for the Springboks, and would be forgiven for thinking this is unusual and unprecedented for Springbok rugby.

However, the current period of inconsistent performance has many precedents in modern Springbok history. The current phase is not entirely dissimilar to the results of 2002 to 2006.

The 4-year period in question included a 52-16 defeat to the All Blacks in July 2003, a 53-3 loss to England and, one I saw in person, 49-0 to Australia in Brisbane in 2006.

All these record defeats where preceded and followed by successes or improvements against the same (or other) tier one teams. Eventually, the successful Springboks were back, winning the World Cup in 2007 and Tri-Nations in 2009. The player group with the eventual success was not too dissimilar from 2002/2003 teams and very similar group to 2006 of course.

So how have the Springboks once again found themselves in almost the same position again?

Springbok Coaches

In the book Springbok Coaches by Gavin Rich (Rich, 2016), Rich interviews and considers the coaches since 1992. From reading this book, I had the impression that there seems to be a recurring theme and cycle of what goes right and wrong for the Springboks.

The coaches are under immense pressure to win from day one.

Whether experienced at international level or not, they don’t often get to choose their support staff and must transform the racial makeup of the team according to government requirements. These pressures lead to coaches having to take responsibility for results that are not entirely within their control. Although, in fairness, they largely know the parameters when they take on the job.

2002 – 2006

The Springbok teams from 2002 through to 2006, were also a group of players that were largely inexperienced. They, therefore, lacked the opportunity to learn from experienced players or coaches.

It may be that with the admin issues and selection pressures mentioned above, SARU has largely been unable to create a transfer of coaching and player knowledge. They seem to have a cycle of building a champion team, play them until they’re out of form, and then start to rebuild again with a new coach (or coaches) and players.

This cyclical process seems to provide good performances mixed with horrendous performances for a few years as they find their feet and gain that all-important international experience.

Possible Solution

As a solution moving forward I am not sure changing the coach will help.

We need SARU to give the coach autonomy in selection. He already knows the transformation target to aim for but let’s not force it. Let the coach reach the target through keeping it in mind for his long-term planning whilst coaching for performance.

Give the coach all the resources that are necessary. This includes staff in specialist areas; skills coaches, sports psychologists, scrum coaches, attack coaches and obviously assistant coaches. Aim for cohesive conditioning standards across unions (already set in place by Allister). Evaluate the coach not on individual matches but allow him time to make changes, learn and improve. Just make sure the trend is up.

Have him work with his assistant coaches and choose the next coach from them or have a handover period for when the coaches change. Much the same way the All Blacks have been functioning since the 2003 World Cup. This way it may help the rebuilding cycle to be shorter and hopefully less severe.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Laurie Mains. “Coaching is about learning from your mistakes, and unfortunately, in South Africa, no one gets a chance to do that.” (Rich, 2016)

Bibliography
Rich, G. (2016). The Springbok Coaches. Cape Town: Zebra Press.

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Author: Wouter Joubert

I was born in South Africa and I am currently a Physiotherapist in Australia.
I’m passionate about sport and in particular rugby union. I have been following Springbok rugby for as long as I can remember, and now also share support for the Wallabies. Though I do enjoy watching any rugby available.

11 COMMENTS

    • Hi JD kiwi, thank you for your comment.
      Seems from what I have read Jake White had a belief and plan for his team to peak in 2007, during the world cup. By 2007 SARU did allow him to bring in more skills coaches and consultant (Eddie Jones) and his core group of player where now experienced at handling the pressure, most had around >30 caps. Maybe the combination of his players getting experience and him getting more support from admin helped their success.

  1. Hi Wouter, great article! Do you think the player drain will slow down the recovery this time? I don’t remember the Boks having so many guys abroad in 2002-2006, but they sure do now.

    • Hi Daniel. Thank you for you comment.
      I agree the player drain is certainly becoming worse than ever now and could dampen recovery this time. I was focusing more here on how the coaching setup has influenced the springboks results. All SARU can control is fixing the coaching setup, this hopefully could motivate some players to stay. Although economics is a big issue here as well or at least help develop young player’s prior to going overseas. As an after though I think SA would have much to gain from a global season.

  2. Hey nice point you got
    But how do you keep politics out of rugby questions, sport in general, when your background tissue does not allow that?

  3. Look no further than the All Blacks to see the value of personnel continuity and systemic consistency in coaching/management. I suspect it is partly why AC is still there. Which would have been the right decision IF he was the right man.

  4. Hi Wouter, I reckon that SARU are doing a decent job in getting good coaches alongside him, but they could do more to stop the player drain.

    1. At the moment players are encouraged to go overseas because there is no rule stopping them from playing for the Springboks. But then they aren’t played, so you get the worst of both worlds. Better to use the same strict rule as the All Blacks so they know where they stand.

    2. I’m concerned that you might have too many teams at pro/Super level, so your financial and playing resources are spread too thinly. Better to concentrate on the players who have a decent chance of playing test rugby one day.

    My understanding is that there is more money in South African rugby than kiwi rugby. SARU could do better!

    Cheers, JDK.

    • Hi JD Kiwi
      On your point 2 I have for some time thought there should only be 3 Super teams from South Africa, of the current 4 would not want to choose, but the geographic sense would be The Stormers, The Sharks and now the hard one The Lions or The Bulls.
      My team being the Bulls so would complain if they left the competition. But I think if they did they would do well in the Pro14.

      But the culling of teams should be felt by the other SANZAR countries also would make a more competitive and demanding competition.

      • Hi Donovan,

        A lot of people fondly remember the old Super Twelve, when there were very few weak teams. Nowadays the kiwi teams are all still strong, but as you say the Aussies can only be competitive if they concentrate their resources into three teams and South Africa the or four. I’m concerned that the Pro venture might not solve the problem because there’s no evidence that the best Kings and Cheetahs are moving to the original teams.

  5. Good points to bring up. It is true they have been getting Coetzee more support since late 2016, yet he still has less consultants on staff than White had in 2007. But maybe they’re doing enough here for now, altough could still use some specific skills consultants as required and a full time mental skills/sport psych? Which they dont currently have on a full time bases.
    I agree they can do some things to motivate players to stay, they have brought in the 30 cap rule but it will take time, in the short term it may cause more pain than gain.

    It is possible they have too many teams for their revenue from super rugby. However I’m excited to see the effect over the next few years, of the 2 teams joining the pro 14 and only 4 in super rugby, time will tell (this becomes more streams of revenue with same number of unions).

    Economically south africa has the potential to sell more tickets and get more network exposure to Europe than NZ. However they do have some economical trouble lately, and there is also the Rand’s poor exchange rate, which make too hard to compete with euro salaries. But guess by changing the things in their control, as mentioned, they maybe have a better chance than currently.

    Cheers,
    Wouter

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