Preparations for 2011 Rugby World Cup; Inclusion of the Eastern Cape in Super 15 Rugby: briefing by South African Rugby Union

Sports, Arts and Culture

01 August 2011
Chairperson: Mr M Dikgacwi (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

A delegation from the South African Rugby Union made a presentation on preparation for the World Cup. They described the team’s goals and message. In the briefing, it was highlighted that the strategy was to focus on internal factors that the team could control in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Whereas external factors such as opportunities and threats were outside of the control of the team. Strengths of the team included: the wealth of experience of players, internationally respected players who had the talent to be the best in the world, honesty and openness among the players and support structures. Weaknesses of the team included the form of the players, unity amongst unions/franchise players due to performance clauses in contracts, the lack of a killer instinct, and there was a fear of risk. The threats faced by the team were: to win seven games to be the best, to play New Zealand in New Zealand, home union players who played their last games in March and would be fresh, the international media and the overexposure of most Springbok players. The crucial success factors were born from the threats. The team wanted to win seven games in a row in order to be the best in the world. The team was looking for fresh and revitalized players, the players and management needed to be focused and goal-orientated. Players needed to be relaxed, but not without the necessary pressures that comes with doing well for the country and “building a nation.” The team understood the country’s demands and possessed the tools to unite the country “to the best of their ability”.
The presentation also detailed the recent Springbok performances in the TriNations, the way forward and how the team would meet its goals.

Members criticised the recent Springbok performances, style of play and selection policy. Questions were raised about administrative problems, transformation and the Rustenburg camp.

The South African Rugby Union also presented a report on the inclusion of the Southern Kings, an Eastern Cape franchise team, in the Super 15 in 2013. The last time an attempt was made to establish a franchise in the Eastern Cape, it had failed because there were no formal structures in place and no cooperation agreement between the three provinces. This time around the process took longer but Eastern Cape region was stabilised and there was an agreement between the three provinces on the way forward. The briefing highlighted that the South African Rugby Union would establish an academy in the region. The objective of the academy system was to identify players between the ages of 18-21 who were leaving school and retain them in the game. The academy would serve as an arena to give players the necessary training, to develop their skills, develop life skills and have further education opportunities. After training the players would be contracted for two years to stay in the region in order to sustain the franchise. The quality of service delivery management would be centralized and knowledge transfer skills delivery would be transferred to the local communities.

Members asked who took the decision that the Kings would play in 2013. They also asked about the academy’s intake each year and what legislation could be put in place to prevent major unions from poaching talented youngsters from the Eastern Cape region.

Meeting report

The Chairperson tabled the briefing by the South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) on Preparations for the Rugby World Cup, the Summary Report on inclusion of the Eastern Cape in Super 15 Rugby and the SARU transformational initiatives He invited members of SARU to present the briefings.

Presentation
Briefing by South Africa Rugby Union on: Preparations on Rugby World Cup
Mr Mark Alexander, Deputy President, SARU, stated that the transformation initiative was not on their agenda and SARU had a committee that dealt with this matter. That committee had prepared a document for discussion; however they were not represented at the meeting. SARU could request that they present the document to the Committee at a later date.

The Chairperson stated that there were burning issues surrounding transformation that the Committee wanted to discuss at this meeting. If the Committee needed to call the SARU committee dealing with transformation initiatives, it would do so.

Mr Peter de Villiers, Springbok Coach, presented his preparations for the World Cup and outlined the team goals. It was decided that there needed be one single-minded message through the whole country of what the team wanted to achieve and how the team was going to achieve it. The slogan message for the team was: “Bring Ons Koppie” (BOK), Afrikaans for ‘Bring Back the Trophy.’ The focus and direction needed be on the opposing country rather than on the opposing team, this would lead to preparation for matches rather than opposing teams.

Through SARU and through the government, there needed to be a global promotion in the media of one message: that the country was so important to the team and through the sport the team could bring hope to the country. The team would use every opportunity presented to it to allow it to benefit and flourish. Within the team, the end result of this approach was that everybody understood the team goal and everybody bought into the system. Achievement of this goal would come through participation and ownership of the responsibility to take the country to the next level. Everything that involved the team should be measurable, this included: role player contributions, on-field performance, individual inputs, referees and media.

The strategy was to focus on internal factors that the team could control in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Whereas external factors such as opportunities and threats were outside of the control of the team. Strengths of the team included: the wealth of experience of players, internationally respected players who had the talent to be the best in the world, honesty and openness among the players and support structures. Weaknesses of the team included the form of the players, unity amongst unions/franchise players due to performance clauses in contracts, the lack of a killer instinct, and there was a fear of risk.

The Tri-Nations competition was an opportunity for the team to get out the message that South African Rugby believed in its strength and the team could be the best in the world. Interacting with Government was an opportunity for the team because if the South African government led the support of the Springboks, “All the blessings” would go with the team. By rallying behind the team, the supporters presented one of the biggest opportunities. The threats faced by the team were: to win seven games to be the best, to play New Zealand in New Zealand, home union players who played their last games in March and would be fresh, the international media and the overexposure of most Springbok players. The crucial success factors were born from the threats. The team wanted to win seven games in a row in order to be the best in the world. The team was looking for fresh and revitalized players, the players and management needed to be focused and goal-orientated. Players needed to be relaxed, but not without the necessary pressures that comes with doing well for the country and “building a nation.” The team understood the country’s demands and possessed the tools to unite the country “to the best of their ability”.

Tools included good coaching and technical staff who could provide players with accurate feedback on the day’s performance, on practice sessions and on player status before and after games. The logistics manager took the pressure off of players especially regarding travel. There was a small problem regarding conditioning strategies due to a reliance of franchise conditioning of players. This led to a variance in conditioning levels in the squad, but through hard work the gap had been narrowed. The stronghold at moment was a strong medical team. Public relations were very good in the build-up to the World Cup the team has been open to the public. Media had come a long way with improved relationship with media. The team was proud of the kit and the team had some of the best equipment around.

The team strived for consistency in team selection- the priorities were experience and leadership. Mr de Villiers stated that “form was temporary whereas class was forever”. The team dynamic was very important to achieve goals as the country always came first. Contracting and remuneration was set. Money would never become a discussion point at World Cup time with the help of the Chief Executive Officer. Selection process was great. No sentimental selections were made.

The way forward was to have a single database from Craven with centralized medical records and skill database on strengths and weakness. As the sport leaders in South Africa, there needed to be one sport base in South Africa like a “sport village” to bring across all expertise and experience. This would result in coordination in the areas of sport psychology, medical and conditioning. Talent identification and support system were very important as was a close working relationship amongst federations.

Discussion
The Chairperson opened the floor to questions
Mr G Mackenzie (COPE) noted that there was a very strong feeling amongst the public that the team that went to the Tri-Nations had weakened the badge of the Springboks because a weakened side was played. It had not brought any glory to the country in the crucial time of trying to reclaim a championship. It was a dangerous thing to ostracise a public who supported the Springboks. To represent the country, SARU needed to play the best players. Due to the new rules in rugby, the kicking game that the team had enjoyed in the past was no longer a suitable playing style. The A-team had been rested five out of the last six matches plus the Tri-Nations; this had resulted in immense pressure for the two remaining home legs of the 2011 Tri-Nations. Mr Mackenzie was fearful that going into the World Cup if “we” did not win those games, there might be a serious problem. In the game against New Zealand, there were two glaring examples where Springbok players going forward made “shocking decisions technically.” He raised questions about team selection and asked was this not a case of “leading the lambs to slaughter?” Lastly, he asked what has been done to bridge the gap between the two countries ranked ahead of South Africa?

Mr S Mmusi (ANC) commented that Mr Mackenzie was very passionate about sports. In addition, he asked Mr de Villiers to clarify conflicting statements about the Rustenburg camp. How far had the coaching staff gone to reduce the players’ fear of risk taking? What had they done to curb it? In the opportunities section of the presentation, did the Committee fall under government or under supporters? 

Mr T Lee (DA) thanked SARU for the role it was playing in developing rugby in the country. He stated that the philosophy of his party was not to run sport. SARU needed to run sport in the sense of “South Africa first”. Mr Lee agreed with everything said by Mr Mackenzie. Regarding the issues of fear of risk, there needed to be a message of “enjoy yourself and become confident.” With winning comes confidence and momentum. If the team continued to lose, they would lose confidence. He asked the coach to address the issue of player selection and the credibility issues that came with the public perception that the best and most experienced players were left behind. On the class versus form issue, Mr Lee agreed that you could not buy class at the expense of players in form. There should be a uniform structure to measure and condition players in the interest of South African Rugby.

Mr J McGluwa (ID) thanked Mr de Villiers for the presentation and stated that he supported the team. He asked the coach to elaborate on the contracting and remuneration issue. What provisions had been made should the players decide to go on strike?

Mr L Suka (ANC) stated that the team was playing “touch rugby” rather than playing attacking rugby. The body language of the players gave the message that there was a problem and the players were not happy. He asked whether Mr de Villiers was aware of the importance for the team to perform well during the Mandela Cup and of the dignity that the Cup deserved. In addition, he mentioned that the issue of representation of players of colour in the national squad was a concern. Finally, he asked the SARU delegation to clarify the myths surrounding injured Rustenburg camp.

Mr J Van Der Linde (DA), who was a former Springbok player, stated that it was important to do well in the next two games of the Tri-Nations. The coach should play the players who were going to win the cup and should not hide injured players. Some players who were not on form received preference over others. Talent identification sounded good, but top teams did not nurture players, but rather bought them from regions in the country that could not afford to keep their players.

The Chairperson re-assured the SARU delegation that Members were not lambasting them, but rather giving voice to the frustrations of South African people. He stated that the lack of players of colour remained an issue as transformation was not optional. SARU needed one constitution because jurisdiction between provinces had become a problem.

Mr Jurie Roux, CEO, SARU, thanked the Committee for the positive comments and accepted all of the comments from Members. He addressed the administrative issues by giving background on the team’s performance in New Zealand. Since 1996, the team had played in New Zealand 19 times and only won three times with the best team available. Only one of those teams went on to win the World Cup. The average margin of defeat was 16 points when the Springboks played the All Blacks in New Zealand. Results needed to be seen in the perspective of the performance of New Zealand in their home country. The Springboks only win 64% of their games.

Mr Roux addressed the perception of the team playing a conservative game with the example that the team played this very style against British opposition at the end of last year and won three out of four games. Results in the Tri-Nations had never been great, but according to planning, the team was en route to where it wanted to go. There was no doubt that the best available fit team was selected. 

In response to questions about the camp at Rustenburg, Mr de Villiers was quoted as saying that there was no ‘training camp’ at Rustenburg. The camp at Rustenburg was a rehabilitation camp. This was given in response to a specific question about a ‘training camp’ posed by the New Zealand media. Mr Roux was open and frank with the New Zealand media members about the rehabilitation camp. He emphasised the point that in a normal year the team might have pushed five or six players to play in the Tri-Nations, but with the World Cup it was not a normal year. Both Jean de Villiers and Jacques Fourie had groin injuries and by allowing them to heal and rehabilitate, SARU was not ignoring stakeholders and supporters, but doing what was best for the team. The team could not play Schalk Burger, as he had a fractured finger. Andries Bekker had been ruled out of the World Cup due to injuries. SARU had a contractual obligation to the players to manage their welfare in the best interests of South African Rugby.

In response to questions on style of play, Mr Roux replied it was a dangerous topic to engage in and one for Mr de Villiers to address. He mentioned that it was difficult to set a single condition programme in place, as each coach believed he knew what was best. SARU could improve matters by putting the best possible structures in place and getting information out through databases and data collection to facilitate the process. In response to respecting fans, partners and joint venture SANZAR agreements, SARU specifically negotiated a deal with support from New Zealand including a clause to field the best available team at all times because New Zealand shared the same concerns on player welfare issues.

On talent identification, SARU conceded that it was lacking in that area, but it was a big focus. This matter could only be addressed through broadening the game at every level. If the game was not expanded within the regions and schools it would die. Under a leaner, unified structure, SARU would be able to address those issues. Talent needed to be kept within home regions to grow the sport. It was the responsibility of SARU to provide infrastructure, facilities and frameworks to facilitate this transformation. Transformation was not simply about getting players of colour on the pitch it was about transforming mindset and skills of players from under serviced areas. Human resources and human capital needed to be transformed; throwing money at the structure to achieve transformation would not help.

In response to criticisms from former Springboks, Mr de Villiers stated, “The older you get the better your playing days become.” On the issue of style of play, in the last three years 68% of tries had been scored from inside the 10-yard line and only 6% through 6 or more phases by keeping the ball in the hand. By keeping the ball in hand there was a chance of giving away points. The team had a strong kicking philosophy even though execution was not always right. In last year’s Tri-Nations, New Zealand kicked 20% more and Australia kicked 15% more than the Springboks in test matches. It was not feasible to not have a strong kicking strategy in the modern game. The style of play worked to the team’s strengths. The biggest problem was that international players were overplayed by their club teams. The best player was Fourie du Preez and the team had not had the luxury to play him since 2009. Andries Bekker would be one of the best locks in world rugby but could not play internationally, because he was overexposed and played every game in the Super 15.

Mr de Villiers clarified that the Committee would fall under government, as it was the exit and entry point to government for SARU. On the question of unity it was the coach’s challenge to keep everyone happy. He assured the Committee that the country was more important then any individual. The objective was to unify the country and to the make the team the peoples’ team. He was humbled by the support from South Africans all over the country, from young boys, who exclaimed that they wanted to play for him one day, to an elderly gentleman in Soweto who removed his hat to salute him. The coach assured the Committee that he was 90% sure that the team could bring back honours the World Cup. Mr de Villiers mentioned that the Committee was very important to him, as it was the only chance to hear the concerns of the people at the government level. And no sport could survive without the support of its government.

The Chairperson did not understand the excuses about overexposure, as Australian and New Zealand players also played the same number of games in the Super 15 and it was not the first time that this issue had been raised. It appeared as if there was something wrong with the administration and not the players. The Chairperson agreed with Mr Roux that a transformational mindset needed to occur across society however players of colour remain under-represented. SARU needed intervene and provide guidance to set benchmarks. He instructed SARU to get its house in order.

The Chairperson emphatically stated that on the issue of the Mandela Cup. South African Rugby needed to respect and defend the name of Madiba by sending the best team to win that cup. If the team did not change gears it would become a “laughingstock”.

On the subject of talent identification, Mr Lee added that the Department of Sports and Recreation needed to work in collaboration with the Department of Education as many youth athletes started at school.

Mr Suka restated Mr McGluwa’s question on remuneration

Mr Mackenzie agreed with the CEO about mindset on the issue of transformation. He also agreed with Mr Lee’s view on the urgent need for school integration.

Mr Roux explained that when it came to contracting and remuneration, the team had normal employer-employee contracts. The players union was a member of the SARU board and was completely aware and informed of all decisions. It was difficult to debate with a union when “they know all your financials”.

On transformation, it was necessary to have the human capital to ensure that programmes were sustainable or else it was a waste of money.

The Chairperson invited Mr Alexander to present on the inclusion of the Eastern Cape in Super 15 Rugby.

Summary Report on inclusion of the Eastern Cape in Super 15 Rugby
Mr Alexander presented a report on the inclusion of the Southern Kings, an Eastern Cape franchise team, in the Super 15 in 2013. The last time an attempt was made to establish a franchise in the Eastern Cape, it had failed because there were no formal structures in place and no cooperation agreement between the three provinces. This time around the process took longer but Eastern Cape region was stabilised and there was an agreement between the three provinces on the way forward.

The team was formed in 2009 and SARU funded the Kings in 2010. The decision was made that the team would play outside of Port Elizabeth in 2013. The vision was to entrench the rugby in the Eastern Cape. SARU was participating in ownership of the franchise to guide the process. The goal was to establish the Kings as the flagship of professional rugby in the Eastern Cape.

The organisation needed to be sustainable, growing, viable and have participation from the community. SARU wanted to get a return on the investment for the stakeholders. The objective was to develop and nurture club and school rugby and keep the Eastern Cape talent in the region. The idea behind the academy project was to retain players in the region and create jobs and opportunities. This would establish a professional player base and provide career opportunities to have quality training and coaching with access to sport science amenities.

The objective of the academy system was to identify players between the ages of 18-21 who were leaving school and retain them in the game. The academy would serve as an arena to give players the necessary training, to develop their skills, develop life skills and have further education opportunities. After training the players would be contracted for two years to stay in the region in order to sustain the franchise. The quality of service delivery management would be centralized and knowledge transfer skills delivery would be transferred to the local communities.

The academy would house 45 to 60 boys from U-18 to U-21 in a central facility. They would be given food and a stipend and would have access to physiotherapy, sports science and the best coaching possible. The four provinces would be Port Elizabeth, East London, South Western District and Boland. In a joint programme, the same services would be provided to the South African Defence Force (SADF) to reintroduce Rugby into the army. This was not a brick and mortar project, SARU would utilise existing facilities. The academy programme would increase access and opportunities for players of colour and those who come from a poor background.

Discussion
The Chairperson opened the floor to questions

Mr Mackenzie asked how many academies in the four provinces they were proposing to have. What would be the intake number each year? In his view, the greatest challenge that the programme would face was that the major unions were contracting schoolboys. The social cohesion element of academies needed to interact in townships and communities. Mr Mackenzie asked who took the decision that the Kings would play in 2013. He had not come across any documentation of an official decision. Was there a relegation/promotion agreement with the Kings in the Super 15?

Mr Lee suggested that SARU should add the SADF as a strategic partner in the document. He was glad that the regions were talking to one another and thanked SARU for the work they were doing. He then re-iterated the point that he made in the previous discussion about talent identification and working together with the schools to identify and develop talent.

Mr Van Der Linde stated that the academy programme in the four provinces needed to coincide with legislation from SARU that players could not be bought until a certain age. SARU needed to compel the major unions to establish their own academies in order encourage equality. He expressed support for the programme, as it would be a great help in the region.

Mr Alexander replied that there would be 45 athletes per academy. The 2013 playing date was agreed upon at a general council meeting. There were current negotiations with SANZAR to expand the league to 16 teams, this would help with player management by reducing the number of games that players played. Failing expansion, one team would have to drop out.

On the issue legislation, Mr Roux replied that the Varsity Cup was modeled on the strict American NCAA model. A general buy in was needed on how to approach amateurism versus professionalism because SARU could not compete with the lure of money in the British and European games. He related this issue back to the transformation point.

The Chairperson thanked Mr. Alexander for his presentation. He stated that the commitment for professional Rugby in the Eastern Cape in 2013 was made in 2008, if it meant that another franchise needed to be relegated, “so be it” He implored SARU to lead rugby in the necessary transformational issues and to make the country proud as it did in 1995 when they united South Africa. He asked that going forward SARU please correct the things that needed to be corrected

The meeting was adjourned.

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