Rugby seem to be heading down a road where the coaches are becoming the superstars and the players are becoming interchangeable parts of a system.
It is no surprise therefore that a player may be out of contention and favour the one season and the next he can be well regarded as the best in his club, province or even country, this was the case with Keegan Daniels who captained The Sharks to near Super Rugby glory and managed to win a Currie Cup in 2013, he went from these dizzy heights of praise and adoration to being nowhere in the 2014 season and is the direct contrast of his counterpart, Ryan Kankowski, who was lost in the rugby wilderness and in 2014 was given the opportunity to put up a strong case for Bok selection in the early stages of the Super Rugby spectacle. The only common factor of this role reversal is the coach, Jake White.
Ultimately, it makes sense that the coaches are becoming the superstars as the game is becoming more complex with each and every season that passes by. These new and ever growing complications have created a situation where a coach with new ideas and insights about the game ultimately affects the performance of his team and the reputation of his franchise.
The opposite is true as well, any coach who is not sure about selections, combinations and how to get the best out of his players is very quickly exposed. The ultimate challenge for any coach is to get players to buy into the system or game pattern that he wishes to implement.
We see this a lot with Jake White, who seems to have the Midas touch in rugby at the moment, he seems to know how to get the best out of any player, just look at Bismarck du Plessis after White gave him the captaincy, he became more well rounded, he went from receiving a yellow card almost every single game to leading his team to well and convincing victories. Another example of White’s coaching influence would be Patrick Lambie, who seems more calm, mature and sure of the decisions that he is making. In a Super Rugby game last season we saw him come back onto the field after being in the blood bin to score the bonus point try for The Sharks. White managed to squeeze the best out of Lambie by coming out publicly and stating that Lambie has been screwed around far too long and that this year he will be the premier fly half for The Sharks.
The modern game requires coaches to constantly be innovating just for them to stay in the running. A team that has failed to innovate or come up with something new to offer lately is The Bulls as they still insist on employing tactics and players that won them the Currie Cup title 13 years ago. The Bulls, a team that is usually in contention for high honours in any tournament, are slowly slipping back into their dismal form of the mid-90’s, 2013 was clear evidence of this as they spent the majority of the Currie Cup campaign just fighting for survival.
Their game plan of kicking for poles, whether it be through penalties or drop goals and scoring the occasional try through a rolling maul has not changed in over a decade, they have become a one trick pony and the opposition knows exactly what to do to counter their one and only trump card of the driving maul.
The Stormers are another outfit that is failing to innovate, or even worse they are failing to play any sort of rugby as they are ignoring the fundamentals of what it takes to win a Super Rugby tournament. They have become a side that is admired for their impressive defensive record but in the Southern Hemisphere, a game plan that is based on defense and is not complimented by an equally good, if not stronger offense will never win anyone a Super Rugby title.
The difference between winning your conference and also ran is bonus points. Last season, The Stormers scored 30 tries in 16 games, that’s less than two per game, which is shocking as they have enough firepower in their backline and enough muscle in their forwards to setup platforms for a more attack based gameplan.
In contrast The Chiefs, who were the overall winners of the tournament, collected 8 points through their try oriented attacking game plan. To put this stat in another way, that is the same as The Chiefs having won two extra games.
Interestingly enough, the team that has won the tournament has gone straight to the semi-finals and has avoided the qualifying match, they also had home finals. In 2010 it was The Bulls, in 2011 it was The Reds and The Chiefs did it in 2012 and 2013. Though it is not a cut and dry fact but if you have a home final then you are more likely to win Super Rugby.
There is no right way of playing winning rugby but there are many many wrong ways, for when you study the history of Super Rugby, you are studying the history of a masterful coach. One who comes in and creates a culture, one who gives a Super Rugby region an identity but more importantly one who instills a coherent and effective style of play that enhances the abilities of the players and makes their team champions.