Let’s allow ourselves to do a spot of crystal ball gazing, just for a minute or two. Rumours are rife that should the current run of bad form continue, Sharks coach John Plumtree may find himself without a job on return from New Zealand. Both of the men whose names are being whispered as possible replacements have coached the Sharks in the past.
Both of them have coached the Boks too and while Jake White – who is probably the most obvious guy to be linked to the Sharks, since he is currently “without portfolio” and tends to get linked to every vacant coaching job from the Jeppe 4ths up – may have won the World Cup, it is the other candidate who has the more impressive Super Rugby pedigree.
Yes, folks, I’m talking about Rudolf Straeuli, our beloved Commercial Director and the man credited with single-handedly destroying the good name of Springbok rugby during 2003. All of the Bok shenanigans notwithstanding, one can’t really discount the big fella’s Sharks coaching record, which will tell you that he has reached the final every time he has coached the Sharks throughout an entire campaign. Strools took over as head coach just before the 2000 Currie Cup, after a Super 12 campaign under Hugh Reece-Edwards that saw the Sharks finish stone last. A little-realised fact is that Jake White was Reece-Edwards’ assistant for that campaign and the two clashed badly – adding further to the unhappiness in the squad caused by an upstart hooker and prop who wanted things all their own way (see where I’m going with this?) While Reece was fired, White was again assistant to Straeuli in the Currie Cup, but grew increasingly more frustrated as he felt that the coach didn’t value his input. In short, the two couldn’t work together. Remember that fact – it’s important! Straeuli went on to reach the finals of the Currie Cup in 2000, as well as both the Super 12 and Currie Cup finals in 2001. The 2001 Super 12 was an amazing turnaround; the Sharks gained an amazing 11 log positions within the course of a single season – surely a record.
Looking at the current setup, we see that Reece-Edwards is again very much in the picture – at the behest of Brian zan Zyl and the board, we assume. We also know that Straeuli is van Zyl’s right-hand man and it is the two of them who currently pull all of the strings in Sharks rugby. Jake White is a bit of a difficult chap to handle at the best of times, regardless of how successful he has been and showed last year when supposedly turning the Lions into a Currie Cup force that he doesn’t always have all the answers and is not necessarily capable of performing miracles overnight. He doesn’t get on with Straeuli and he can’t work with Reece-Edwards, so unless the board do something truly unexpected and throw out the whole lot of them, I reckon the chances of Jake White getting involved with the Sharks in any capacity in the near term are virtually zero.
When it comes to Straeuli, it’s not so clear cut. My gut feel is that he is finished with coaching – at least at the higher levels – and seems far more in-his-element wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. He has been quite successful coaching and managing the junior teams, though and certainly seems to have a better rapport with the younger players than he does with the seniors. That said, if a caretaker coach is needed to guide the team through to the end of the Super 14, before appointing someone “for the future” when the Currie Cup starts, then I for one don’t think Straeuli would be as bad as everybody seems to expect. The Sharks have forgotten how to play rugby under Plumtree and maybe a coach who is a stickler for the basics might just be able to get the team to do a few things right – basics like scrumming, tackling, passing and the like.
All just speculation, of course and you should by no means take this as any sign that I like Straeuli any more than I used to. Just wondering if he could possibly do a worse job right now. What do you think?Tweet