South Africa’s narrow win over Argentina in Nelspruit last week once again highlighted the poor skill levels of most of their players.
The Boks’ error-ridden performance during large parts of that Test proved that several of their players don’t have the skills or attacking mindset of their counterparts from New Zealand and Australia.
What also stood out in that game – and in their three-Test series against Ireland – is that the Boks can no longer just rely on bullying their opponents with their physicality in the forward exchanges.
And while Springbok head coach Allister Coetzee has said that he is determined to add another dimension to the two-time world champions’ attack, it is evident that such a transition will take time before it is perfected.
That leads me to ask the following question: why does the South African Rugby Union not employ a specialist skills coach?
After suffering a 3-0 series defeat, on home soil, against England in June, the Australian Rugby Union wasted little time in appointing Mick Byrne as their skills coach on a four-year deal.
Byrne previously worked with the All Blacks during three Rugby World Cup campaigns, of which they won two. In his current role, he works with all of Australia’s national sides, Super Rugby franchises and junior representative teams to improve skills across all areas of the game.
SARU should follow that lead and employ someone with a similar job description.
A skills coach will also be an asset to the Bok coaching staff. He will be able to help Coetzee, attack coach Johann van Graan and backline coach Mzwandile Stick in implementing that attacking dimension, which Coetzee has referred to, and to improve the players’ skills.
During the Boks’ four Tests and numerous Super Rugby matches in 2016, what was evident was the inability of several of the country’s leading players to identify space as well as their lack of attacking skills.
The obvious exception to the aforementioned assertion were the Lions players who unlike their counterparts from South Africa’s other Super Rugby franchises led the way with their superb attacking style of play which has been like a breath of fresh air on their country’s rugby landscape.
This leads me to the man who I think will be a perfect candidate for the position of skills coach of South African rugby, current Lions attack coach Swys de Bruyn.
Under his guidance, the Lions scored more tries (81) than any other team in this year’s Super Rugby tournament and are also the top team for defenders beaten (484) and metres gained (9685).
They are also amongst the pace-setters in that competition’s other attacking statistics. The Johannesburg-based outfit finished third highest for clean breaks (225), second highest for carries (2028) and fifth highest for offloads (197).
De Bruyn deserves plenty of praise for those statistics which played a huge role in helping the Lions reach the Super Rugby Final where they finished as runners-up to the Hurricanes.
The 56-year-old, who previously had coaching stints at the Sharks, Griquas and with South Africa’s U21 national team, joined the Lions in 2013 as an assistant to their head coach, Johan Ackermann.
Since then, De Bruyn has played a major role in helping the Lions’ transformation from Super Rugby basement dwellers to title challengers. The time is right for him to help improve the attacking skills of more professional rugby players in the South African game.