The challenges we face

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Posted in :Original Content, Reader Submissions on 16 Mar 2015 at 11:56
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I don’t know if you can call this an article but rather a bit of a rant.

Rugby has become somewhat of a bore overall. International rugby is physically intense, don’t get me wrong, but the amount of exciting play we see in the 80 minutes is actually rather scant. This is understandable, as the stakes are high and it is a win at all costs kind of rugby. Or is it? If we look at the different geographical areas of rugby, i.e. Europe, the southern tip of Africa, and Australasia, one can easily distinguish between the overall different styles, and if you think about it carefully, it makes sense the way certain teams, franchise and countries play. This is due to the general makeup of their player pools, the weather they find themselves in for most months of the year and especially the environment children grow up playing the game in.

But rugby needs to take a turn, and a drastic one at that, especially in my mother country, the one and only South Africa, where talented rugby players are found underneath every second rock. Unfortunately we are raising idiots. Yes people, our country’s educational system is not the only contributor to dumb rugby players – the coaches, and the scouts and the mentors and the commentators and the teachers and the fans are all to blame!

We are known as a physically dominating nation in terms of rugby football, but since the introduction of scientific conditioning methods, other countries have caught up and we now find ourselves grasping the short end of the stick. I still believe there’s no bigger dog rugby player in the world than your average run of the mill pure bread lower-middle class South African. But we can’t rely only on that?

While we’ve been punting the big boys (150kg u 13 Craven Week players) and muscle-bound boneheads, the other nations have been developing another dimension to their game. I like to take New Zealand as an example because they are, to date, the overall best rugby playing nation. They have developed a nationwide ethos and belief in entertainment, which comes with the movement of the player, and with the movement of the ball. The introduction of weight category rugby with their youth has now started to show its true value. They have spent the past two decades evolving their national development programs to produce players who are creative in their thought, spontaneous in their actions, and smart in their application of their immense skill sets.

This creates an underlying mental blueprint of how to play. I now go back to what we know, our structures, our patterns, our MAPS. South African teams play instructively, not instinctively. This means we are predictable, and if not predictable then still unadaptable. A good set piece is GOLD, don’t get me wrong, and players knowing what they want to do where on the field I totally understand too, but it’s the mindset we have within these patterns of play; to me there is no thought, only mindless movement and parrot-fashion regurgitation of the body. Our players operate with their eyes wide shut.

This lack of ability to think, and act instinctively has been covered up well. And we will continue to be one of the top rugby playing countries in the world, because rugby is in our blood, and we breathe it every day, and the passion carries us so much further than our actual ability could have ever taken us. But if we don’t make a national mind-shift, we will slowly but surely keep losing more and more grip, and the other countries will ultimately be out of our grasp.

I experienced this for myself as I was coaching a rugby team in SA one year, and there was a question asked, “but sir where do I go now?” And my answer was, “well… wherever you see fit”. After having implemented a way of thinking within this side, they came back after having played two games and said they can’t operate like this, they feel too loose, they said there’s not enough structure. This is when the alarm bells in my head went off. Thus we need to look at the overall picture here, we can’t just drop in new ideas from the top, i.e. the Sharks looking to play an “offloading game” and South Africa looking to “Willie”…. I mean run the ball suddenly. There are just too many block missing in the foundation. Those are world class players, don’t get me wrong, but the ethos and the blueprint they possess is not in line with this “new” way of playing. And that is where they get it wrong, it’s not a new way of playing, but a new way of thinking….. And thinking it must be from player no.1 to 15, and if they don’t all think the same, it will continue to be a hit and miss.


  • Personally I think rugby is as exciting as its ever been. I remember well some of the borefests we had in the late eighties where it was naas botha this and naas botha that and endless scrum resets.
    I think its very easy to only remember the ‘good times’. That’s simply human nature.

  • Comment 1, posted at 16.03.15 12:04:22 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • Nice read. 😎

  • Comment 2, posted at 16.03.15 12:04:41 by JarsonX Reply
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  • I do sometimes think the majority of our players can only concentrate on getting one thing to work.

  • Comment 3, posted at 16.03.15 12:08:16 by Bokhoring Reply
  • You are touching on something very interesting here which I have thought about for many years.
    I remember at school playing against Kearsney Collage. We were giving them a hard time and their parents couldn’t take it.
    I specifically remember hearing one of them shouting “These guys are not playing structured rugby, they playing optimistic rugby!”
    Point being made is, are the boys at school not coached to play instructively, and not instinctively? Hence the long term problem that we are sitting with?

  • Comment 4, posted at 16.03.15 12:08:17 by Uli Boelie Reply
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  • @VinChainSaw (Comment 1) : I don’t see where you see the endless scrum resets. Go have a look at the 1990 CC final and see how quickly the scrums formed and how quickly the ball came out.

  • Comment 5, posted at 16.03.15 12:10:14 by Uli Boelie Reply
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  • But then you get a guy like Morné Steyn (and there would be many others), who couldn’t make HM’s bulls team because he was too creative….coach HM had to beat his free spirited thinking out of him with a prodding stick and turned him into a mindless kicking zombie (over exaggerated off course).

    SA coaches seem to be scared of working with creative thinkers…not sure why.

    This is probably why we do not have a creative backline in any of our SA teams….introduce an ozzie backline coach (like Campo) and all of a sudden these boys are running wild.

  • Comment 6, posted at 16.03.15 12:22:04 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • The fear of failure and pressure on attaining results over performance has led to the rugby we now see in this country. Players and coaches are very fearful of mistakes and hence opt for a risk free approach. Sponsors, Management and even fans want results above all else which has led to the method we have adopted. Equipping players to think and act for themselves requires players understanding of the game as well as an understanding by stakeholders that mistakes are likely and need to be accepted in order to brain wash the players. So yes we may not have many ‘smart’ carefree players…but we are smart in knowing how to win a game…well most games- we arent no.2 in the world by default

  • Comment 7, posted at 16.03.15 12:32:49 by SheldonK Reply

  • Solution is simple.

    Teach coaches to coach this at school level from U15…

    The problem with this of course is that less than 30% of coaches at this level has any accreditation whatsoever (qualified to coach at all).

    Once a player enters the professional level there is very little you can do to change his ‘approach’ to the game, all you can basically do is fit him into a system that he understands and trusts.

    It is kak easy to learn something (new), it is near impossible to un-learn something – so teach them the right way from the start and you won’t sit with this.

  • Comment 8, posted at 16.03.15 12:38:51 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 8) : I was hoping you’d read this

  • Comment 9, posted at 16.03.15 12:47:44 by robdylan Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 8) : What do you think of the Kiwi system of playing school rugby in weight divisions as opposed to age groups?

  • Comment 10, posted at 16.03.15 12:47:55 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 10) :

    It is much of a muchness to me.

    On the one hand it gives kids confidence knowing they will be up against guys of equal size, but a big U13 kid does not have the same mental maturity of a U15 kid even though they both weigh 80kg’s so there is a risk too.

    I am more for the approach that rugby, and the different levels or areas of the game needs to be introduced systematically rather than have U9 boys play a 15-man game which includes scrums and line outs.

    As an example, I would rather have a no contact game introduced from U6 to U9 – like a Seven a side tag-rugby.

    At U9 to U11 I would introduce semi-contact still only as a Seven a side game – so the basics of scrums, line outs and rucks are introduced on a safe and ‘clean’ level. It would follow a similar principle to 5 touch tag-rugby where even if you are ‘tackled’ only one or two opposition players may enter or contest the ruck/tackle.

    From U12 to U14 I would prefer a 10-man game, more focus on scrums, rucks and line outs and basic introduction into contact techniques, off-side lines and simple defence systems.

    Only at U15 would I move to 15-man a side rugby with contact as we know it today at school level.

    Reasons for this are wide ranging, but the most important ones for me is that the focus is on skills training where space and not contact (tackles, scrums and line outs) are the focus. No matter your future area of speciality (lock, prop, wing) you should be able to attack space, pass to both sides equally well, whilst understanding the basic principles and systems of the full code.

    From there, you specialise based on your individual strengths and aptitude.

  • Comment 11, posted at 16.03.15 13:00:53 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 11) : THIS!

  • Comment 12, posted at 16.03.15 13:22:43 by robdylan Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 11) : Agree one 100% Morne, I get so freaked out when I see poor skills from professionals, One thing many in here wont realise or would hate to admit, is Naas Botha was a very good distributor both ways and had worked so hard on kicking equally as good with both feet, even though he is right handed.

    I cant think of the fellows name but he is the left back for Liverpool, he is left footed and cannot kick to save his life with his right foot, for me that is shocking from a so called professional.

    I grew up in PMG and played soccer as a youngster ( under 8/10,12,14 and so on) and could kick well with both feet from that, also used to play as a kid with older blokes a game called gaining ground which again helped me to strengthen my kicking with either foot.

    Surely these kids of today should be honed in kicking and making sure they pass and kick equally from both sides?

  • Comment 13, posted at 16.03.15 14:00:10 by sharks_lover Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 11) : What happens to the fat, short and/or slow kids…they’ll have no place in the team during the early years, by the time they’re attributes are required, they’d have lost out completely.

  • Comment 14, posted at 16.03.15 14:10:12 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @sharks_lover (Comment 13) : Gaining grounds is where I learnt to ‘torpedo’ with both feet. Every break, twice a day. I started out awfully but now it’s natural.

    When I went to Varsity they’d just bought a bunch of Craven Week players. They asked who could pass both ways and some of those guys couldn’t. What a shock, until then I’d assumed any decent player could do the basics. 😯

  • Comment 15, posted at 16.03.15 14:15:40 by StevieS Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 11) : I agree with your approach. Is there any chance something like this can be implemented? I see in America they are doing the touch/tag game and have over 2 million kids involved. The USA is a sleeping giant that’s starting to awaken.

    As far as the skills go this was my experience. We had basic guidelines when I played for my schools 1st XV, basically kick out of your 22 if it’s not on to run etc, but our coach had a simple philosophy:

    “Kick to the corners for the first 5 minutes, put pressure on them, see how they react and then play it from there.” We went on to have one of the best seasons our school ever had.

  • Comment 16, posted at 16.03.15 14:20:00 by StevieS Reply
  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 14) : That’s a good point. Keen for your answer Morne.

  • Comment 17, posted at 16.03.15 14:21:22 by StevieS Reply
  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 14) :

    If your fat and slow from ages 6 to 13 you have bigger problems than playing rugby mate…

  • Comment 18, posted at 16.03.15 15:53:14 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 18) : and surely learning to pass the ball is something you can do irrespective of speed (or dare I say weight)?

    We’re not trying to turn props into flyhalves here, but we are trying to teach them enough ball skills (and “thinking”) to not have to rely on bulk alone.

  • Comment 19, posted at 16.03.15 15:55:33 by robdylan Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 18) :

    And I am not talking genetically big kids, they can still be fit and coached basic skills because they are fit and active – I am talking obese, which by the looks on things I read is a massive problem in the world today.

    @StevieS (Comment 16) :

    Phase 1 roll out has already started, this year we hope to have reached 60 000 kids (U6 to U13).

    Google the IRB get into rugby programme to get an idea.

    From here our Player Development Programmes kick in (more position specific) which also launches this year.

    Realistically, real results should start to show in 3 to 4 years time.

  • Comment 20, posted at 16.03.15 15:57:43 by Morné Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 19) :

    Exactly the point.

    What we are specifically trying to avoid is having a 10 year old (big) kid being labelled a prop and never be exposed to fundamentals (like passing) only backline kids are taught…

  • Comment 21, posted at 16.03.15 15:59:37 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 21) : if my dad hadn’t spent so much time with me in the yard learning to pass like a scrumhalf, I would have been an even more useless lock than I was.

    Ok, bad example.

  • Comment 22, posted at 16.03.15 16:02:07 by robdylan Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 21) : Yeah I remember seeing Coenie as a schoolboy think he was 125 kgs in matric,coaches weren’t queuing up to play him on the wing.
    I think the advantage of the New Zealand weight versus age system is that guys like Jonah Lomu and
    SBW were allowed to develop as back line players.Here they would have been shoved straight into the scrum.
    Brad Barrit played most of his junior rugby as a hooker,only converted at 16,Craig Burden was a wing

  • Comment 23, posted at 16.03.15 16:08:20 by The hound Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 20) : Unfortunately people aren’t realistic. If it comes through in even 4 years that’ll be fantastic.

    @robdylan (Comment 22) : Great dad to spend time with you 😀

    @Morné (Comment 21) : Every player should know the basics. It seperates the good from the great.

  • Comment 24, posted at 16.03.15 16:28:43 by StevieS Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 18) : @robdylan (Comment 19) : Why would I pick a bigger boned kid to play against fast little skinny buggers?

    My point is, the bigger-boned/typical-prop-sized/lock-sized kids will have to find a new sport during those formative years, because no coach would want them in his side, because they won’t be able to compete as there won’t be any need for their physical attributes.

    @Morné (Comment 21) : Your 10 year old big kid won’t be labelled anything because he won’t be selected to play against the faster more agile kids….you’ll end-up with a team of Kolbe’s with Marcell Coetsee’s as props.

    No more Jannie, no more Coenie.

  • Comment 25, posted at 16.03.15 17:00:24 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • I dont think we risk that at all, not because I am guessing but because it is based on scientifically based evidence on physical development of kids. Jannie did not weigh 100kg’s at age 10.
    Your critical and most significant ages for physical development is between ages 14 and 17 for boys, by then they are playing the 15 man code in any case and would have a pretty fair idea of what position they fit into.

    Throughout the formative years each player is constantly assessed on strong and weak areas – this also helps any coach that gets them at ages 14 to 17 to better assess what position they are suited to best.

  • Comment 26, posted at 16.03.15 17:49:35 by Morné Reply
  • Also, if there is a place for the Frankie Horns of this world in Sevens at pro level there is a place for the bigger kids in a similar environment at age 10 or 11.

  • Comment 27, posted at 16.03.15 17:52:05 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 21) :

    We could always go down the NZ model whereby schoolboys play accroding to weight.

  • Comment 28, posted at 16.03.15 18:02:57 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 25) : I think you will find that players like Os and Coenie are suprisingly fast for their size.

    If you also aim for an inclusive system at primary school level (i.e. if a kid wants to play rugby, you make sure there is a team that can take them), you may get that even though the fatties are not playing for the A team at 10, there is still a place for them in the C / D team.

  • Comment 29, posted at 16.03.15 18:03:03 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 22) :

    You were a lock?

  • Comment 30, posted at 16.03.15 18:04:02 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • @sharks_lover (Comment 13) :

    Stopped at “is Naas Botha was a very good “

    You couldve added the words commentator, motivator,statistician, mathematician, politican, father, brother, son.

    But distributor? Yeah, maybe the 1 out of 20 times he didnt kick he passed alright, eh…

  • Comment 31, posted at 16.03.15 18:06:39 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • @VinChainSaw (Comment 30) : I know, I know.

  • Comment 32, posted at 16.03.15 18:08:27 by robdylan Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 11) : brilliant! Personally I would love for my son to learn rugby like that.

  • Comment 33, posted at 16.03.15 19:14:31 by gregkaos Reply
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  • @gregkaos (Comment 33) : I would have loved to learn rugby like that

  • Comment 34, posted at 16.03.15 19:20:03 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 34) : that too!

  • Comment 35, posted at 16.03.15 19:26:53 by gregkaos Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 11) : This sounds very good Morné. Makes a lot of sense.

  • Comment 36, posted at 16.03.15 19:40:45 by Ben Reply
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  • @Bokhoring (Comment 29) : That will have to be the option…’cause nobody can tell me that Jannie and Coenie were slim and sleek average built kids able to run with the 100m and 200m sprinters at any time in their lives.

  • Comment 37, posted at 16.03.15 19:42:28 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 14) : Schools have more than one team. Even if they play for the ‘H team’, they will learn the fundamentals of rugby.

  • Comment 38, posted at 16.03.15 19:43:05 by Ben Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 34) : Me too.

  • Comment 39, posted at 16.03.15 19:44:04 by Ben Reply
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  • If you plot a long term trend of number of tries per Test match (you may do this on you will notice that it has gone up. More today than in the 70s and 80s and more then than the 50s and 60s.

    So much for “back in the day, rugby used to be exciting.”

    So far this year, the NZ pack was heavier than the SA pack in every match played. Pay attention. They display this on the screen at the 1st scrum.
    The size difference between their outside backs and ours is self evident.

    So much for the “big South African players” myth.

    I would argue that the most difficult skills in rugby are those involving multiple players. ie. Set Pieces in descending order of complexity of skills needed: Scrums, line-outs, mauls, rucks.
    The most difficult to acquire individual skill is obviously place-kicking. Then out-of-hand kicking, then tackling.
    SA players/teams are 2nd to none in all of the above.

    So much for “SA do not coach skills”.

    Passing (in most positions) is about the least complex and easiest to acquire skill there is in rugby. Observe Morne’s system: U6-U9 plays running and passing only, because that’s the easiest most natural aspect of the game.

    Running is based entirely on a player’s physical attributes. It’s the most brawniest and least brainiest aspect of rugby.

    This is where the kiwis have an advantage and why they can play an unstructured game. Their players have the genetics to beat ours in one-on-one situations almost every time.

    Thinking and instinct are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

  • Comment 40, posted at 17.03.15 02:30:45 by fyndraai Reply
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