You don’t have to look at his record as the most successful provincial/regional coach in world rugby to understand why Robbie Deans is so sought after and so highly respected in his industry.
It is obvious just from observing him, from listening to him speak. He is straight, he is economical with his words, he has a way about him that breathes rugby and just commands respect. You could see this when he addressed his Crusaders players after they had won their seventh Super 14 title.
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that after those celebrations were over, Deans flew over the Tasman Sea to take up position as the new coach of the Wallabies. I have read several reports on his first day in charge of the Australian national team. They were all positive, actually pretty effusive in some instances, and yet not once was there an instance where he made a comment that rubbished his predecessor.
Deans appears to be one who is able to look to the future without concentrating too much on what has been before. I doubt very much too that Deans could ever be accused of making contradictory statements. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the new Springbok coach Peter de Villiers.
In one of his earliest press conferences, De Villiers was so gushing in his praise of the intelligence and maturity of the Bok players he was working with that it was almost embarrassing. He spoke about how he was in awe of them, how they were impressive not just as rugby players, but also as human beings.
How did this fit though with a more recent interview in which he not only appears to go out of his way to criticise his predecessor, Jake White, but also disses the players for their conservatism and their unwillingness to embrace change.
The players are painted by De Villiers as being closeted, unable to think for themselves, and reading between the lines, they are robots. Or at least that is what he was thinking on the day he was interviewed, for as I say, on a different day he definitely thought very differently. Or at least so he said…
Now is it my imagination or is there a shared chorus coming from most readers at this point? One that goes like this: Give us 15 robots who will win us the World Cup and we will say those are damn good robots.
Which is a point that De Villiers should not forget as he starts out on his own path as Springbok coach – the man he is replacing did win the World Cup, if there is resistance to change it is probably because it is quite natural to resist change to something that works.
I know there are those who still like to criticise White, who try to negate his achievements. Those who do so though employ idiotic reasoning, and conveniently forget that the reason White’s team did not face New Zealand in the final was because the All Blacks lost to France, who were outplayed twice by Argentina, who in turn were thrashed by the Boks.
Those who point to him never winning in New Zealand conveniently forget that two of those four Test matches on Kiwi soil during the White era were decided off the last move of the game. No other post-isolation Bok coach other than Nick Mallett ever came so close. Then there were three wins over the All Blacks on South African soil. Name the modern Bok coaches who managed to win once, let alone three times? They are a small group.
White, when he was in the position De Villiers is in now, was rebuilding the Boks, who had been unceremoniously dumped from the World Cup in Australia a few months before. He went on from that small base to win the Tri-Nations. Considering where the Boks had been, that was a massive achievement, and it deservedly saw him win the IRB Coach of the Year award.
I don’t know what new level De Villiers might be referring to when he says he can get 40% more from the Boks that won the World Cup. There is no new level – Jake White achieved the pinnacle of what any rugby coach can achieve.
If his comments telegraph intent to reinvent the wheel, to sweep in a whole new way of playing, then someone should remind him that he has not coached at Test level yet. Harry Viljoen thought he knew it all when he took over in 2000, and that was why he instructed his players not to kick under any circumstances when they played their first Test under his charge against Argentina.
We all know what happened next – Viljoen’s style switched quite quickly from one of ultra-attacking to one of ultra-conservatism. He learned that Test rugby was a different animal to where he had been before.
The Test experience of the players in his squad far outweighs his own international experience, so I dare-say De Villiers would be well advised to listen to them, and instead of criticising White’s regime, he should be thankful for the platform and the winning culture that has been created.Tweet