Mail & Guardian

Gauteng Lion's cupboard is bare

25 Sep 1998 00:00 | Staff Reporter

Andy Capostagno Rugby

Everybody said it wouldn't work and they were right, but it is still sad to see Dawie Snyman being shown the door for not taking the Golden Lions to the semi-finals of the Currie Cup. When Snyman was appointed last June it was widely believed that he had been brought up from Stellenbosch by Louis Luyt to get his hand back in before replacing Carel du Plessis as Springbok coach.

Much has happened since then and history tells us that Nick Mallett got the top job, perhaps fortunately for the subsequent development of Springbok rugby. Snyman is in many ways a throwback to the dark days of isolation when his Western Province teams dominated the Currie Cup and it was past glory rather than future growth that persuaded Luyt to appoint him.

It seemed to matter little to Luyt that Snyman was a Stellenbosch man through and through, and right up until the end this week he was still commuting from his home at the other end of the country on a weekly basis. It could not work for logistical reasons, but there was a more important reason.

Snyman's Province teams included players such as Danie Gerber, the Du Plessis brothers, Divan Serfontein and Schalk Burger who could reasonably be called great. It is a truism in sport that all successful teams are player driven. The Brazilian soccer team of 1970 could have been coached by Pele's mum and still in all probability would have won the World Cup. Transvaal cricket's "mean machine" of the 1980s is still talked about, but no one harps on about the coach.

Equally, you can't build a wall without bricks and mortar and there is a reason that the Lions are about to appoint their fifth coach in two years. The cupboard is bare. It is instructive to look at the Transvaal team which took the field in Bloemfontein on October 1 1994. They beat Free State 56-33 and retained the Currie Cup won 21-15 against Natal the previous year.

Gerbrand Grobler, Pieter Hendriks, Bernard Fourie, Japie Mulder, Gavin Johnson; Hennie le Roux, Johan Roux; Gerhard Combrinck, Charles Rossouw, Francois Pienaar (captain), Philip Schutte, Kobus Wiese, Ian Hattingh, Uli Schmidt, Balie Swart.

Seven have retired, three are injured, three have relocated and Grobler, alas, is deseased. Of the team which lost against Western Province last week only Balie Swart remains, and then only due to the largesse of a disciplinary committee. Success is built around continuity and you could put Carwyn James, Danie Craven and William Webb Ellis in charge of the current squad and they still wouldn't reach the semi-finals of the Currie Cup.

Which brings us to the sticky task of appointing a successor to Snyman. The worst- kept secret in Christendom is that Laurie Mains, the former coach of the All Blacks, has been tapped up. He should on no account be allowed to do the job. It is not that he is a foreigner nor that he is not an ex- Springbok, for, thankfully, we burned all those chauvinist bridges five years ago when Ian McIntosh was appointed for a sadly brief tenure.

My problem with Mains is not that he will always have a foot in the enemy camp, or that he still blames food poisoning and a Mata Hari of a waitress for defeat in the World Cup final, or even that he is a miserable old bugger who actually cannot understand why he is known to the press as "Laughing Laurie".

My problem is that, like Snyman, he is yesterday's man. Like Snyman he will be effectively brought out of retirement if he comes and like Snyman he will bring absolutely no affinity with the highveld lifestyle.

Mallett has talked about having a more proactive role in coach and player selection for the Super 12. He should now make his case plain to the denizens of Ellis Park. If South African rugby is to grow it either needs to appoint a local coach who has shown promise or a foreign coach who has some good, radical ideas.

Englishman Andy Keast (now in charge of London Irish, formerly assistant to Mac at Natal) falls into the latter category and there are several who fall into the former. Phil Pretorius has done wonders in successive seasons with the Eagles and the Falcons, Heyneke Meyer is carrying on his good work this season with the Eagles and the recently retired Johan Roux would be a startlingly good choice if he could be persuaded to leave the stock market alone for a while.

The problem that all of them would have is that being in charge of the team at Ellis Park does not mean being in charge and until Luyt makes up his mind where his future lies the mailman will not be groaning under the weight of applications for a job that is likely to be extremely well paid, but poorly rewarded.



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