The perfect fit

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content on 4 May 2011 at 10:55
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Exactly what enables a team of no-hopers or perennial losers to turn things around?

If we had a definitive answer to that, we would have solved one of sport’s greatest mysteries!

Of course there are loads of examples where this happened, in fact, it’s still happening today. Unfortunately the answer to this question is more a sum of parts, than one single event or influencing factor. But if we go back in history and compare teams of yesterday (and today), there is one common denominator that pops up all the time.

I recently read an article about the Highlanders and their amazing turn-around in 2011. Most people, even including  Highlanders fans, would not have given them much of a chance to end up in the top 6 of the Super 15 competition, yet they currently stand a very real chance.

The reason for this is an area we have visited quite often in the recent past. Teams either suffer from this and find it extremely difficult to come out of it, or they feed of it, it is the culture of the team, or more importantly, the organisation as a whole.

When Jamie Joseph returned to Carisbrook to take charge of the Highlanders there was a sense of relief from those closely associated to the franchise. The reason for this was that one of their own, a Highlanders man, has come home to fix things and get them out of the rot they managed to get themselves into in recent years.

The fact that he was seen as ‘one of their own’ immediately established a sense of trust and a sense of respect between Joseph and his employers, and also his players. The result of this is what we now see on the pitch and even around the pitch. The Highlanders are not just knocking over big names in the competition, they are doing it consistently and they are well in contention of a top 6 finish in this year’s competition. In addition, where crowds of less than 10 000 were the norm in recent years, Carisbrook now sees crowds exceeding 20 000 fans pack the historical stadium and grass banks.

There is a sense of pride in the team, a sense of determination and an obvious change in culture not only in the team, but also the franchise administration and the fans.

Can one man really be the difference between a team being successful or a bit of a joke? That would be a bit of a simplistic view I reckon, and as I mentioned success is a sum of parts rather than one cog or gear being changed, but the importance of this one aspect can hardly be denied.

Joseph might have been slightly lucky in respect of the trust and respect he immediately enjoyed being an ‘old-boy’, but in many cases especially in the professional era, this has to be earned.

In a South African context there is arguably no better example of this than the Bulls and Heyneke Meyer. Meyer did not have an easy time of it when he started out. Up and till recently, he had the unfortunate record of the worst Super Rugby season where they lost every single game in one year. For once however, a union or franchise stuck by their man and the result of this is known to everyone who follows rugby.

Whenever you ask someone to tell you the story of how Meyer turned the Bulls around from easy-beats to champions, you will no doubt hear that two things worked in his favour, he had the buy-in and respect from his administration and he had buy-in and respect from his players.

Once he achieved this, Meyer set out to change the culture within the union.

For years and even today still we often read about the ‘family’ that exists at the Bulls, personally, I would like to call it a culture that exists within the union. It is a culture that saw the Bulls get together on Christmas day in the past to put in the extra 4 or 5 hours they knew no other team did. It is a culture which we read about today from players where win or lose, the team and players get together at one-another’s house to discuss and sort matters out. It is a culture that goes beyond individuals just being team mates, or coaches or even administrators, it’s a culture of success in which everyone has to play their part, and being part of a family.

As much as the Bulls and Highlanders are two teams that can be used of examples of success or where this was achieved, South African rugby also has quite a number of examples where the opposite is true.

It might sound like I am making a case for individuals (Meyer and Joseph) as being the most important reason teams were able to create a winning culture, but I believe this is the mistake we all make. In a team environment whether it be in rugby or your daily lives at work, your success as the boss or employee, or the coach and the player/coach and administrator, is more dependent on who you associate yourself with than who you actually are.

Perhaps that is a very bold statement, but one I feel carries a lot of truth in it.

It is impossible for one person to win over all the individuals in that organisation all at once. It is a process that takes time and is not only dependent on your actions or words, but who you associate yourself with internally in that organisation to help you instigate change. The most talented and gifted individuals will fail if they do not find the perfect fit for themselves in other individuals to spread this culture.

As much as a positive culture spreads like a virus throughout an organisation, so does a negative one.

Rassie Erasmus joined a Stormers culture which was similar to that of the Highlanders in years gone by. If we forget the person for a moment, there will be very few individuals in rugby that will not acknowledge the genius of the man. Yet when it came to changing to culture as a coach, Erasmus failed.

When he was moved from the role of coach to that of Director of Rugby, things started to change. Erasmus, as brilliant as he is from a rugby perspective did not have the ability to enforce a change in the culture that existed from the position he was in. Once removed, he found the perfect partners (associations) to ignite this change more effectively.

Whether this move came from the Stormers administration who identified his worth but realised how ineffective it was utilised, or from Erasmus himself who knew he had to move to surround himself or associate himself with different individuals to effect the change that the franchise needed is unimportant, what is important is that how the structures changed and who he now surrounded himself, or associated himself with, and how that had a much more positive and dramatic effect in changing the culture that existed.

He found his perfect partner or foil in Coetzee who immediately had a profoundly different effect with the media and the players both of which suddenly became much more relaxed and a lot more positive.

The message in all this is that there is no set blueprint for teams to follow to effect a change in culture, for that, the ‘problem’ is a lot more complex and the environments in each team too different.

What I do believe most unions and coaches miss however, is that individual brilliance or ‘buying the best’ (coaches or players) won’t change this either, it is finding the perfect fit for your team and who you choose to associate yourself with.


  • Interesting read, oh sage one! And given that you currently top the Superbru pool, I guess we have to attach a lot of credibility to your offerings! 😉

  • Comment 1, posted at 04.05.11 11:50:56 by Culling Song Reply
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    Culling Song
  • Excellent read squire. Now, translate this to The Sharks culture? Do we have the same, what with all three coaches previous Natal players.

  • Comment 2, posted at 04.05.11 12:13:37 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @DarkDestroyer (Comment 2) :

    The short answer? No.

    I have long held the opinion that technically, and when it comes to forward play and skills on contact there are few better in the world than Plumtree.

    Head coach? Not his role imo.

  • Comment 3, posted at 04.05.11 12:20:31 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 3) : mind you 2 CCups. and the second one cannot be said to be left over after Muir.

    what about Lions – don’t you think that Mitchell has buy-in of players and management and yet 😐

  • Comment 4, posted at 04.05.11 12:32:02 by rekinek Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 4) :

    A coach that looks to blame his players first cannot hold much respect amongst them imo.

  • Comment 5, posted at 04.05.11 12:33:11 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 5) : weird. when reading your comment I first thought that you meant Plumtree as he often is critical of his players and thought that it is perhaps necessary to be honest sometimes.

    Don’t you think that Lions’ players deserve to be blamed.

  • Comment 6, posted at 04.05.11 12:40:44 by rekinek Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 6) :

    It is fine to seek blame when things are not going well, it becomes a problem when you start blaming each other however.

  • Comment 7, posted at 04.05.11 12:44:52 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 3) : Certainly, when Plumtree arrived during the Muir tenure, he brought a hard edge and physical excellence to our forward play, something that is still evident (last weekend’s capitulation notwithstanding).

    The concerns currently surrounding him would be, for me, the continuing slide towards mediocrity of our backline play, and Plum’s inability to fix that, or identify the correct person to do so.

    Also, we haven’t really seen much in the form of innovation of late (last year’s CC game plan had already been pioneered by the All Blacks), and the general management of players with regards to selection, rotation and succession planning has been somewhat sub-standard.

    Lest it seems that all I’m out to do is denigrate Plum, let me categorically state that he certainly enjoys my respect, being the only coach since 1996 to guide us to some silverware (twice, nogal). There also has to be something to the fact that we have been able to succesfully retain and recruit players despite better offers being tabled by other unions.

    Plum should definitely form part of the Sharks setup for years to come, but I too am not convinced that head coach is the role most suited to him.

  • Comment 8, posted at 04.05.11 12:51:06 by Culling Song Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 7) : True.
    I was very excited for Lions this season but by now I lost all the hope. Not sure however whether a perfect fit would help. I do tend to think that the players may just not be good enough.

  • Comment 9, posted at 04.05.11 12:54:14 by rekinek Reply
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  • @Culling Song (Comment 8) : at last the inability to get 4 tries bonus points sorted itself out 😉

  • Comment 10, posted at 04.05.11 12:56:50 by rekinek Reply
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  • @Culling Song (Comment 8) :

    I think everyone respects Plum a hell of a lot. He is a massive asset to the Sharks and they would be stupid to fire him.

    What I am saying and my view for sometime on Plum is that the current role he employs does not fully exploit his value. Perhaps a role similar to Rassie is Plum’s future?

    @rekinek (Comment 9) :

    The Highlanders are not loaded with superstars either, neither are the Rebels or Force, but at least they are very competitive.

  • Comment 11, posted at 04.05.11 13:05:19 by Morné Reply
  • good read morne. i`m sorry to bring in football on a rugby site, but another example of the “family” vibe in a team is at barcelona. anyone who watched the game last night would see how the players play for each other and for the badge. believing in each other and the brand they want to to be viewed by.

    this could never be bought (as Real madrid showed last night).

  • Comment 12, posted at 04.05.11 13:33:18 by VanWilder Reply

  • @Morné (Comment 11) : i said not good enough not meaning that they need to be “star” quality. I was much harsher.

  • Comment 13, posted at 04.05.11 14:17:15 by rekinek Reply
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  • @VanWilder (Comment 12) : they have iniesta 😉

  • Comment 14, posted at 04.05.11 14:17:37 by rekinek Reply
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  • Eish that was a good read wanted to pass because of its length but had the guts to go through with the reading but yet another great one from our one and only Morne great

    i agree respect all around and with what you know and who you know boils down to one hell of a team if you don’t have any of these then you can just as well give up of wining altogether,

    Family is what it all boils down to you fight for what you want and we as Sharks Supporters want that dame S15 CUP so get up and show us as supporters respect so can walk with our heads up high and not in shame 😆

  • Comment 15, posted at 04.05.11 14:20:06 by chaz Reply

  • @Morné (Comment 11) : I’m not convinced that a Rassie role would be where Plum would deliver maximum value; Rassie, by all acounts, works on issues of strategy, while the lack of tactical nous seems to be the Sharks current downfall.

    I thought Plum will really shine if the Sharks had a counterpart to Rassie, with Plum more involved in the practicalities of implementation, skills, etc.

  • Comment 16, posted at 04.05.11 14:25:50 by Culling Song Reply
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    Culling Song
  • @Culling Song (Comment 16) : just the backline coach would do for me.

    or even relegating Bosman to the bench for a while may do wonders 🙄 He is almost invisible any case.

  • Comment 17, posted at 04.05.11 14:29:51 by rekinek Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 17) : While I agree that we need some fresh input in the backline, and that this is probably the major area of concern, I think there is also room for improvement in the forward play. The strength of the Stormers’ lineout is hardly a surprise, but it certainly did not look as if any thought went into ways of countering it.

  • Comment 18, posted at 04.05.11 14:47:28 by Culling Song Reply
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  • @Culling Song (Comment 18) : the lineout has been bad the entire season disregarding whether it was Bismarck or John throwing. Can’t recall really how we were doing in CC last year but lack of recollection may mean that there was nothing glaringly to worry about.

    I am not sure what’s wrong there really – I do miss Muller though.

  • Comment 19, posted at 04.05.11 14:58:04 by rekinek Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 19) : The Sharks lineout woes have little to do with Bissie’s and John’s throw ins. The issue is our lifters, they are not providing the support our jumpers need in the middle and back of the lineouts. We rarely lose ball to the front because it is all about timing, not so much about the lifters, but the middle and back throws require superior support from the lifters and this is where we have been failing. Guys like Beast, Jannie and Big Vic must take some responsibility for this.

  • Comment 20, posted at 04.05.11 16:44:46 by Dancing Bear Reply
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  • If you recall in the past two Currie Cups, Keegan even became a lineout threat at the back of the lineout. He is not all that tall, but with good support from his lifters, he was very successful. So what has changed? Keegan is not jumping less high, his timing didn’t all of a sudden go by the wayside, simply he is not getting support from his lifters.

  • Comment 21, posted at 04.05.11 16:46:11 by Dancing Bear Reply
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  • @Dancing Bear (Comment 20) : so how do you remedy it ?
    tell the lifters to pack more and lift better?

  • Comment 22, posted at 04.05.11 16:46:48 by rekinek Reply
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  • @Dancing Bear (Comment 21) : but the same lifters were there last season. weren’t they.

  • Comment 23, posted at 04.05.11 16:48:39 by rekinek Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 22) : Perhaps they need a refresher on technique, and some practice, practice, practice to get their timing back. Expecting a jumper to win ball at the back or middle of the line without support is just not on. Late in a game, when Sykes missed a ball at the back, he turned to both his lifters (who had not even touched him as he went up for the ball) and said “FFS – where were you???”

  • Comment 24, posted at 04.05.11 16:49:49 by Dancing Bear Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 23) : I think Beast and Jannie were with the Boks most of last CC. I think it was Van Staden and Cilliers who were getting most game time at prop and lifting in the lineouts. So I don’t think they were all the same lifters.

  • Comment 25, posted at 04.05.11 16:51:10 by Dancing Bear Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 23) : Even if we are talking about the same lifters, they could have lost some timing and technique. Hence my early statement that they need some practice and retraining on technique.

  • Comment 26, posted at 04.05.11 16:52:50 by Dancing Bear Reply
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