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Rugby Doctor

The challenges we face

Written by Rugby Doctor (Rugby Doctor)

Posted in :Original Content, Reader Submissions on 16 Mar 2015 at 11:56
Tagged with : , , , , ,

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.


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