Leading without example

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content, Springboks on 12 Jan 2011 at 10:44
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Springbok rugby and South African rugby in general is coming to the end of an era, and it might be time to think about what the future holds.

2011 will see some of South African rugby’s most famous icons and hero’s retire from the game, or move abroad to close off their careers.  For a country with the wealth of talent South Africa has, most people will not worry too much, but they should.

I read a recent publication by a New Zealand university doctor who argued in a 292 page document how New Zealand will fail in this year’s Rugby World Cup hosted in their own backyard.  Needless to say it was not well received by his fellow countrymen but the basis of his argument was intriguing.

He argued how success in the Rugby World Cup depends mostly on leadership within the team, and how the absence of their iconic captain Richie McCaw or backline general Dan Carter through possible injury or some other catastrophe can be the difference in lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy, or not.

Apart from the Rugby World Cup, he also asks why there is such a massive void between players who are leaders, and those who follow and why not more players develop into leaders at professional level.

It is an argument which hits close to home for South Africans too.

John Smit, Victor Matfield, Juan Smith and Fourie du Preez will all most likely retire, or in Fourie’s case, move abroad.  That is the core leadership group of the Springbok team and like New Zealand, I cannot see any natural or logical replacements for them.

Throughout the last 6 or 7 years, we have seen the importance of each of these individuals in the team, not only from the individual skills they bring to the setup, but how they are the glue that holds everything together.  No team can hope to achieve success without these types of individuals, not the Springboks, and neither the All Blacks.

So where, and why, or how did we, and even New Zealand stop producing leaders of this ilk who are quite simply, indispensible to the game of rugby?

It is a question I have often pondered because as many of you will know from my previous columns, I value captaincy over and above insanely talented players, and Dr. David Harris, the author of the paper might have provided the answer I was looking for.

Players like McCaw, Carter, Smit, Matfield, Juan Smith, Du Preez and the likes started their rugby careers when professionalism was in its infancy.  Things like rugby academies was still quite new where these guys, although not completely similar to the days of amateur rugby, came through the ‘ranks’ so to speak.

They started their senior careers, very much as juniors in an environment where there was a very distinct hierarchical structure in place where as juniors, they had to fight their way up the ranks to establish and even ‘prove’ themselves or earn the respect of their peers.

They came into an environment where they absorbed the knowledge of rugby icons like Josh Kronfeld, Andrew Mehrtens, Gary Teichman, Mark Andrews, Andre Venter, Joost van der Westhuizen and players of similar status all of whom formed part of the transition from amateur to professional rugby and who were brought up through the structures and traditions of the game in its amateur form, which included the camaraderie uniquely and exclusively experienced in club rugby.

This process of learning from players with different skills and experience in a position of power, authority and respect, equipped these players, and future leaders, with the tools necessary to one day deal with the dynamics involved in leading teams of their own.

Captaincy is more than just wearing an armband.  It is the ability to lead from the front, to accept responsibility for each member of the team, to nurture each team member to perform to his potential, to resolve conflicts which will arise from individuals from different backgrounds and cultures and even languages, to plan, to strategise, motivate and pull a team through difficult times on the field, and even off it.  He is a person who instigates and manage relationships between all team members and above else, he is respected as the father-figure of the team.  He is not only a captain of his team, but the ambassador of the club, province, or country that team represents.  In short, the team, and country, is judged on this one man or group of men.

Today, it is not strange to see a baby-face on the field representing a union, franchise or even country.  The programs and structures that institutions like rugby academies provide fast-tracks this process and what was once odd, is now becoming the norm.

Players today skip the old-school process of being exposed to a hierarchical structures found in the processes of progressing through club to union level rugby by being immediately forced into an academy environment from school.  From being seniors (in schools) they never become juniors again, they are exposed to , and supposed to learn, from individuals on equal levels as themselves who are not only the same age, but have the same levels of experience.

It is not that some of these players are not leaders, or capable of leading, they are just never exposed to the first-hand knowledge and mentorship which will help them develop into great leaders who can deal with the unique dynamics a team sport provides.

The formula for the magic glue that holds a team together never gets passed on.  The individual becomes more important than the team, everything becomes I, not us.  Pride takes a backseat, respect for the game, jersey and team mates becomes secondary, because if I am the highest paid rugby player of my country at age 22, I don’t need to listen to anyone.

Sounding a bit melodramatic?

I will challenge you to name a captain for each of our major franchises for 2012 that has, or shows the same potential, and will endure the longevity as a leader for their team some of the names above had or showed for their unions, and their country.

I expect very few nominations.


  • This subject remains contentious. I also read somewhere that Matfield said that what we see on the field in terms of captaincy is only about 10% of the job of the captain. Smit needs to be there in the RWC…the question is just in which capacity IMHO.

  • Comment 1, posted at 12.01.11 10:51:19 by Pokkel Reply
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  • Shit Morne… heavy stuff for January.

    You are not wrong, though…

  • Comment 2, posted at 12.01.11 11:05:07 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • I mean, I think most of us agree that Alistatir Hargreaves is the man who should take the Sharks forward from next year, but he suffers from exactly what Morne has mentioned here. He has been “earmarked” or chosen since he was a kid and has hardly had to fight his way up through the system… Has he learned the necessary skills along the way? I would hope that some aspects of leadership will have been passed down by Smit, Muller and Stefan…

  • Comment 3, posted at 12.01.11 11:10:18 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • @robdylan (Comment 3) : I’m not included in that list…I’m not convinced Hargreaves is the solution…but then again I can’t really offer a alternative…except maybe Lambie but then I’m biased towards Lambie :mrgreen:

  • Comment 4, posted at 12.01.11 11:13:56 by Pokkel Reply
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  • But how does one change things. Rugby has become more and more demanding and so to has the fans. We forget about other skills apart from the actual talent a player possesses. Leadership seems to take a back seat. And can someone really learn to be a leader? I’m not so sure. I still think leadership is a natural thing, either you have it or you don’t.

    As far as pride and playing for the team goes, I think that is where a coach plays a huge role. Just look at the Sharks during the S14. After 6 matches we looked down and out, but something changed. They started playing for eachother and after we won the semi against the Bulls you could see the team’s reaction. It was about more then just the win. It was about a team coming together, and there I take my hat off to Plumtree.

  • Comment 5, posted at 12.01.11 11:46:12 by Farlington Reply

  • @Farlington (Comment 5) :

    it is natural, but still needs to develop, and this is the problem, the skills of leading teams stagnates, and stops developing.

    Dont forget the role Stefan played with that team coming together…

  • Comment 6, posted at 12.01.11 11:48:21 by Morné Reply
  • @Pokkel (Comment 4) : hahaha aren’t we all 😉 but I think keegan daniel is the best leader for the sharks I saw this 1 match where he marsharlled even the seniors to get they ass in gear love that about him

  • Comment 7, posted at 12.01.11 11:50:30 by Poisy Reply
  • i still think Ryan Kankowski would be a great captain. has got many years left in the tank and grew up through the ranks and i believe he will be a great leader.

  • Comment 8, posted at 12.01.11 12:39:15 by VanWilder Reply

  • @VanWilder (Comment 8) : I don’t know…he looks like the quiet type to me.

  • Comment 9, posted at 12.01.11 12:43:08 by Pokkel Reply
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  • Damn this is so logical and makes so much sense, howcome it took so long to figure this out.

  • Comment 10, posted at 12.01.11 12:58:12 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 10) : What exactly?

  • Comment 11, posted at 12.01.11 13:01:19 by Pokkel Reply
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  • @VanWilder (Comment 8) : ryan ya maybe but can he command a starting position in the current crop of shark loosies?

  • Comment 12, posted at 12.01.11 13:24:33 by Poisy Reply
  • I still think jannie dup still has a good chance to be a good captain..the bad boys always stand out..

  • Comment 13, posted at 12.01.11 13:51:12 by shaniboi Reply

  • Who’s organising the ODI thread?

  • Comment 14, posted at 12.01.11 14:08:59 by klempie Reply

  • You’re letting the side down Rich!

  • Comment 15, posted at 12.01.11 14:24:45 by klempie Reply

  • possible future leaders from each franchise
    sharks daniel/alberts
    lions adriaanse
    bulls van velze
    cheethas r. eberson
    stormers bekker

  • Comment 16, posted at 12.01.11 14:31:39 by prgdad Reply

  • @klempie (Comment 15) : I think he’s busy. He’s not available on skype either

  • Comment 17, posted at 12.01.11 14:32:06 by Pokkel Reply
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  • @prgdad (Comment 16) : Bulls – Potgieter?

  • Comment 18, posted at 12.01.11 14:33:05 by Pokkel Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Author
  • maybe heinrich brussouw will be the next sharks captain? 😉 😎

  • Comment 19, posted at 12.01.11 14:41:03 by VanWilder Reply

  • @Pokkel (Comment 18) : if not banned or injured – chilliboy…

  • Comment 20, posted at 12.01.11 14:41:45 by VanWilder Reply

  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 10) : what makes sence? ❓

  • Comment 21, posted at 12.01.11 14:43:14 by VanWilder Reply

  • Going at 7 an over atm. 😎 😎

  • Comment 22, posted at 12.01.11 14:46:43 by klempie Reply

  • Valid point, but I don’t the sky is falling yet. Time inevitably will sort out this issue.
    Remember, assumption is the mother of all stuff ups.

  • Comment 23, posted at 12.01.11 14:57:20 by Crock Reply

  • Hash is going ape-shit. 😀

  • Comment 24, posted at 12.01.11 15:00:09 by klempie Reply

  • Keegs has shown excellent leadership abilities at the Sharks. Kanko is a little quiet. The problem is that none of our loosies command a regular starting spot, we have 5 that could start any match. We have a similar situation in the front row, which means our two best options at Captain (Smit and Keegs) will not start every match. I suppose the same can be said for Stef, with him and Adi sharing time at 13. It looks like we will have to select a captain for each match, not for the season. I think that Plum should select a group of leaders, and any single one of them can captain the team in a given match. My recommendation for leaders are Smit, Hargreaves, Keegs, Big Vic and Stef. One of these five will be available for each match.

  • Comment 25, posted at 12.01.11 15:24:38 by Dancing Bear Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Dancing Bear
  • all i think is that lambi is the man and with all the leaders around him to learn from.he has 3to4 years to do the hard work and learn from the experiance.then hes ready to lead the sharks and 3 years later at age 25\26 ready to lead the boks

  • Comment 26, posted at 12.01.11 16:25:09 by juba_fan Reply

  • I have always felt that backline players are generally too far from the action to be an effective captain. Personally I believe the captain should come from 1-9 if at all possible. This is my biggest concern about Lambie as captain.

  • Comment 27, posted at 12.01.11 16:48:24 by Dancing Bear Reply
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    Dancing Bear
  • @Dancing Bear (Comment 27) : It takes time for the back to come to the point of the penalty to answer to the ref and make the decision what to do with the penalty. This time adds up during a match, and results in less action time. I don’t even like it when a wing kicks for poles, it often takes them a long time to get to the spot, and then they have to get their tee and set it up. There is less time wasted with a forward or 9 as captain and a 10 who kicks.

  • Comment 28, posted at 12.01.11 16:55:27 by Dancing Bear Reply
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    Dancing Bear
  • I cannot see Smit not being involved in the WC.
    I just dont see him spending much time on the field of play.

  • Comment 29, posted at 12.01.11 17:15:15 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • labie at 10 is always close to the action.stef at 13 was a great captain.smit an amazing captain got tied up on the ground alot and so will most of your loose forwards and in the current way the game is played your locks and loose forwards is often in the center area thus a no 10 would be a better choice

  • Comment 30, posted at 12.01.11 17:17:17 by juba_fan Reply

  • for example look at how long mattfield sometimes take to get to the penalty spot….and then still makes the wrong decision.

  • Comment 31, posted at 12.01.11 17:29:30 by juba_fan Reply

  • @juba_fan (Comment 30) : Oom Stef is a great captain because he understands the importance of the “team” and is able to get that across to his teammates. He is well respected, deservedly, due to his playing history and his personality. That being said, I still think time was wasted waiting for Stef to get to the point of the penalty to talk to the ref or make the decision to kick for poles, touch, etc. Also, with Stef at captain we need a very strong forward leader because Stef is not there to gear up his forwards. Keegs did this for the Sharks in the CC last season.

  • Comment 32, posted at 12.01.11 17:32:29 by Dancing Bear Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Dancing Bear
  • @juba_fan (Comment 31) : Dude, that is Matfield, who was renowned for spending more time in the centres than getting stuck in. That being said, he is much better now.

  • Comment 33, posted at 12.01.11 17:33:19 by Dancing Bear Reply
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    Dancing Bear
  • thats why i say lambi in 3-4 years.that gives him time to learn and earn.

  • Comment 34, posted at 12.01.11 18:27:11 by juba_fan Reply

  • @juba_fan (Comment 34) : Not intending to be argumentative, however, we just do not know at this point in time what kind of leader Lambie will be in the senior ranks. His skills, and playing ability are not to be questioned, however, we have nothing to base his leadership ability on. You may be right in 3 or 4 years time, but thus far, I have not seen anything from Pat that makes him stand out as a leader. I see a lot that makes him stand out as a player. I may be proven wrong in the long run, but I may also be proven right. I just don’t think we can be talking about Lambie as a captain right now. In my opinion, best leader of all the youngsters is Keegs, head and shoulders above anyone else.

  • Comment 35, posted at 12.01.11 18:32:27 by Dancing Bear Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Dancing Bear
  • @Dancing Bear (Comment 35) : he’s not even really a youngster anymore

  • Comment 36, posted at 12.01.11 18:49:33 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • @robdylan (Comment 36) : Keegs is 25 now isn’t he? Rob that is half my age almost, he is a youngster! 😆

  • Comment 37, posted at 12.01.11 19:03:26 by Dancing Bear Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Dancing Bear
  • when oom stef started playing for the sharks he didnt show much as a leader but wow what a captain he turned out to make keegs captain for a few years while getting lambi ready.lambi at age 24\25
    takes over from keegs and we start working on the next generation capt.we sorted for the next decade

  • Comment 38, posted at 12.01.11 20:17:05 by juba_fan Reply


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