The departure of Rory Kockott, and the apparently soon to be confirmed departure of Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira highlights an interesting question around the effectiveness of coaching on certain players.
Some players seem to thrive under their senior rugby coaches, while others seems to stagnate, or even deteriorate. One is left to wonder if clubs and their coaching establishments are failing players, or if some players just fail to engage the system and make themselves uncoachable.
Beast and Kockott present an interesting contrast. Beast came into the system as a rough diamond – a natural athlete playing as a loose forward, with plenty of power and pace, but little finesse. There can be little doubt that he owes the Sharks coaching system a great debt for helping him make the transition from a good loosie to a world-class loosehead prop. By the same token, there is little doubt that Beast put in the hard yards, was willing to make a difficult transition, and learnt the darks arts of the front row very quickly. His is a success story that looks set to benefit Bok fans, and Lions fans in particular, for some years to come (it’s a pleasure Manie).
By contrast, Kockott is a player whose neglected talents were noticed by the Sharks while languishing in Lions purgatory, and who quickly took his opportunity to make himself first-choice scrumhalf – displacing the highly-rated Ruan Pienaar to flyhalf. But it is really there that the fairy-tale stops. His game never really kicked on from there, and if truth be told, he actually took a few steps backward in the last 2 seasons, culminating in a player mentioned as a Bok last year being relegated to bench-cover and an unheralded transfer this year.
I feel led to ask how this came about. Kockott certainly has all the facets to be a world-class scrumhalf. In my opinion, he is probably the closest direct substitute I have seen to the great Fourie du Preez – aggressive defender and abrasive ball-carrier, very educated boot, inclination and temperament to control a game from the base of the scrum, and of course, the glass-chewing attitude necessary to mix it with the big boys - and come out on top.
However, Kockott has some glaring weaknesses in his game too; a slow, two-step pass, an affinity for running with the ball down blind alleys irrespective of what opportunities exist outside him, a penchant for kicking too much good ball away, and perhaps most critically, an apparent disinclination to pursue the team goal in the face of personal glory.
The issue with the above is that it is nothing new – it may have become more patent over time, but it was always there. Short of eventually dropping the young scrumhalf completely, what did the coaching team do to improve his play? Judging by the speed of his fall from grace, Kockott was rewarded for his individual style of play right until he was unceremoniously dropped – talk about conflicting messages!
I can’t help but feel that an earlier and more substantial coaching intervention might have seen the blooming of his undoubted talent in the right direction, instead of the sullen, desperately glory-seeking displays toward the end of his Sharks sojourn. It is too late now, but for the sake of Bok rugby, one must hope that the Lions coaches can help Kockott find the balance between his individual strengths and what suits his team best, and show the discretion and honesty necessary to bend his talents and will to the best style of play.
Of course he will unfortunately not be the only unrealised talent to have departed Durban in recent years. One can hardly forget the likes of Brent Russell, Francois Steyn and Ruan Pienaar, none of whom could be said to be better players after their Sharks sojourn than they were before it. All came in as fantastically talented players, but none of them left substantially better.
Could this be because of the attitudes or discipline of the above players, or has their been a failing in the Sharks coaching system? It is hard to tell, but it is certain that the losses of Pienaar, Kockott and Mtawarira, each in their own way, should raise some concerns for Sharks fans about the coaching system at the home of the Currie Cup.Tweet