Open letter to Gert Smal, as it appeared on www.rugby-talk.com
Gert, may I wish you all the best in your new position. I am sure you are the man who can restore pride and dignity to WP Rugby but please don’t let “diplomacy” trip you up at the first step and derail everything before it even starts.
A Big Broom Sweeps Cleanest
Please use the opportunity to sweep the stage clean and start afresh much like the Sharks have done to great success. This is not an attack on the coaches as people who are all ‘good guys’ but it is important we recognize their limitations and the dire situation in which WP Rugby finds itself.
The current coaching team has had more than enough years, opportunities and board support to take the Stormers to the top but have proved themselves incapable. Yes, we did finish at the top of the local log, but have consistently failed to take advantage of that and actually win the competition. If they cannot win at home in a final at Newlands packed to the rafters with loyal supporters they never will. Under the current coaching staff the Stormers did not peak, they have reached their glass ceiling and plateaued and nothing will change with the current coaching staff in place.
Every new year we hear how they are going to attack more but fall straight back into a totally conservative, fearful, defensive mindset and we have the same old same old ugly, boring rugby going nowhere slowly.
If you retain the current coaching team, you are condemning your tenure to failure from the start, which will be a great pity. What can they do now that they could not have done in the last 5 or so years?
They have a collectively conservative mindset and that will not change no matter what you do. You will always be justifying your new approach to a coaching staff that does not believe in it and whose first instinct and only instinct is conservative and defensive and too scared to lose to want to be adventurous enough to win. Adopting any strategies you wish to implement will be a tacit admission by the coaching staff that they failed, so they will hang on tooth and nail to try and prove that their own strategy is a winning one. You will simply be wasting the positive energy you bring to Newlands and it will soon turn into negative, destructive energy as individuals pursue their own agendas at the expense of WP Rugby.
You can get all the consultants in the world and it will make no difference when the current coach cuts it all off at the knees. You can shore up the battlements with attack coaches and kicking coaches and… and… but without the unequivocal enthusiastic buy-in of the current coach, it will be a disjointed effort doomed to failure.
You can instruct him to implement your systems but then you are coaching by proxy and won’t have time to do the rest of your job.
Why spend all your time and energy trying to justify your philosophy to coaches whose philosophy is diametrically opposed to yours? Why not bring in a coaching staff that shares your philosophy and will implement it with gusto and pride?
John Dobson would be the obvious choice but you may have someone else in mind. Whoever you chose for the coaching team, please also tap into the rich intellectual rugby property available to you in terms of ex-WP players and coaches and ask them to mentor players in all positions to pass on their skills, experience, streets-smarts, rugby nous and winning attitude.
Please use the rest of this season to let a new coach and coaching staff to begin to work with the players and implement your and their shared vision. The current coaches have proven they are not up to it and any more time in charge is wasted time in the cause of WP Rugby. Rather let a new coach use that time to build the cause of WP Rugby.
Please Gert… don’t underestimate the level of feeling amongst us supporters who have been here since your playing days and before.
Contracting Young Talent
On another matter Gert, please start identifying our schoolboy and club talent and contracting the best of them. As long standing loyal supporters, we are gatvol with watching talented young players coming up through the ranks and looking forward to seeing them playing for our junior and senior teams, only to see them whipped from under our noses by other provinces while our own management snooze and then come back to haunt us for years in the colours of other provinces. I won’t list the names because it would be too long but you know what and who I am referring to.
Yes, I know we have too much talent to contract them all, but we do expect WP Rugby to identify and contract the cream of the Cape rugby crop.
We are all sick and tired of a coach that ignores local club talent and then makes last minute, ill-considered appointments from other provinces and countries, by contracting whoever is available and is not contracted to any other team just to fill a gap and sends a very disrespectful message to all our current and prospective talent in our province. This causes young players and even our own senior squad players to give up and/or head overseas.
Place a moratorium on importing players. If you just contract the best we have here we will have phenomenal teams from schoolboys, through age-groups and Vodacom Cup, right up to Currie Cup and Stormers and Bok representation.
Many of us would rather see a team made up of players from the Cape than from all over the place with no real attachment to WP Rugby. Or at least insist players who wish to play for our great province at least join a club and play their way into contention against their local rivals.
It’s not as if we don’t have the talent here. All the other provinces and franchises know we do and they come down here and sign far too many of our young stars.
Let schoolboys who dream of playing at Newlands know that if they are good enough, try and train hard enough, have a great work ethic, and persist through the levels, they will do so wearing a WP jersey and not some upcountry colours.
Do not ignore or patronise loyal WP supporters
WP Rugby has become complacent because of all the support it gets when we pitch up at Newlands every weekend for every match, come rain or shine, win or lose, successful season or not, no matter what, but our patience is not infinite. It is damned expensive to fork out hard-earned money only to watch a team too scared to lose and not brave enough to win.
You should hear the comments of normal long-standing loyal supporters leaving the stadium after another dire game. So many are gatvol. WP Rugby cannot and must not count on the indefinite patience of loyal supporters.
If you don’t get it right Gert, if you don’t do the right thing, and very soon too, you may well find ‘your’ Stormers playing in an empty Newlands.
Please Gert, don’t let us down.
All the very best to you and WP Rugby!