Possible player strikes, alleged racial incidents, the sacking of two coaches, poor attendances and even worse results — welcome to the whacky world of the Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU).
The once-proud union has become a laughing stock of SA rugby and after years of mediocrity chief executive Manie Reyneke this week took a bold step to enforce change.
He employed former Springbok coach Jake White’s company to do an audit of the rugby structures at the union and make recommendations about how to turn the Lions into a competitive side again.
Craig Ray reports for the Sunday Times that White was at Ellis Park for less than 48 hours before deciding that the words “rugby” and “structure” didn’t belong in the same sentence in Doornfontein.
Super 14 coach Eugene Eloff was asked to present an explanation of why the team struggled in the Super 14 in the third year of his three- year plan, which delivered nothing.
He apparently arrived at the meeting under-prepared and instead of giving a detailed analysis of structural problems and underlying reasons for failure, asked the GLRU executive to give their thoughts on the Super 14.
“If the rest of the campaign was as well prepared as the washout meeting, it’s no wonder they came 12th,” White said.
Reyneke, who has backed Eloff for the past 18 months, knew that something drastic had to be done. “It became apparent to me that we had to make changes at the union — and not just at coaching level,” he said.
“Changes needed to be made immediately because the Currie Cup starts in less than six weeks and our first two games are against the Bulls and the Cheetahs.
“I informed Loffie on Wednesday morning that he would no longer be coaching the senior team. Loffie took it well, but asked to be allowed to coach the team against the British & Irish Lions this week. I said no, the change had to start immediately.”
That led to a stand-off with some senior players who remained loyal to Eloff, although according to team manager Mustafa Boomgard and Reyneke, a lot of players welcomed the change.
Reports of a player strike circulated, but were denied by all parties. Eloff told England’s Guardian newspaper: “When I heard about the possible strike I rang Cobus Grobbelaar (the Lions captain) and asked him not to go ahead with it. I said that no emotion should be put into my departure and that it was in the best interests of everybody that they went ahead with the game.”
Eloff is a pleasant man but his coaching tenure was a disaster and those players loyal to him must question their ambition. Are they happy in the Super 14 basement, or would they prefer a change of environment and new ideas?
Already there has been talk of players leaving over the Loffie affair, a situation that’s unavoidable and doesn’t overly concern the GLRU.
“I’ve been highly impressed with Jake and his knowledge of the game,” Reyneke said. “I believe with his help we’ll go a long way towards rectifying the situation at the union.
“The union was in financial dire straits over the last few years, but we’re back on track and making a profit. We can compete with the Bulls and I can afford to buy 40-42 top players. We can employ the best people, but what I don’t have is the luxury of time. We have to get it right within the next 12 months and we needed to start yesterday.”
White is not universally popular and he is renowned for his stubbornness and loyalty to players. But he is thorough and lives by the motto “fail to prepare and prepare to fail”.
“I want to be able to say to the Lions fitness coach, ‘what are you doing at 3pm on August 20?’ and he has to pull out his plan and show me the timetable,” White said.
“I’m not promising the Lions will win the Currie Cup and the Super 14, but Eddie Jones (White’s business partner) and I will assist in ensuring that structures and planning are in place to give them direction and attainable goals.”Tweet