Craig Lewis

Restoring the Bok brand

The Boks celebrate Courtnall Skosan's try The Boks celebrate Courtnall Skosan's try

The off-field culture taking shape at the Springboks has been central to their reversal in fortunes at the start of this season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

The Boks are a different bunch in 2017. Of that there can be no doubt. Having followed the Springboks on tour for all of their home Tests last year, there was a definite sense that something was sorely lacking.

It often appeared as if the Boks were simply going through the motions. Training sessions seemed to lack intensity and accuracy, while mixed messages and a defensive approach was often the abiding sentiment at press conferences.

Yet, by all accounts, the Springboks seem to have realigned their priorities this year. During this past week in Port Elizabeth, it was clearly evident that the Bok camp is a much happier place.

Yes, a winning team is often a happy team, but there is no doubt that the Boks have taken the decision to band together with a desire of establishing a brotherhood of camaraderie both on and off the field.

You can see that reflected by the way in which the Boks have taken to mobbing any try-scorer in a jubilant group-hug whenever someone crosses the whitewash.

In the build-up to last week’s Rugby Championship opener, there was also a very different vibe at training where there was clear direction and intent, but also plenty of smiles and laughs as the players genuinely appeared to be enjoying each other’s company.

The word on the ground is that the abundantly apparent new team culture owed its roots to a planning camp held in Plettenberg Bay just a couple of weeks prior to the start of the international season.

The week-long camp had a strong off-field focus, and saw plenty of time set aside to include activities that were geared towards creating a strong team environment. Away from the public spotlight, the players and management held open and honest discussions about restoring pride in the Bok brand, while settling on standards and a style of play that they committed to taking forward into the new season.

Siya Kolisi, who forms part of the team’s leadership group and has been one of the standout performers this season, provided meaningful insight into the changes that have taken place behind the scenes.

‘This is the best vibe I’ve ever experienced in the Bok camp. The players have been given a lot of ownership and we started our own culture,’ he commented. ‘The main thing is to play for each other and learn to understand each other. We’re all from different unions … and so we’ve made time to get to know each other.’

It was something that Raymond Rhule also alluded to after producing a stellar performance against Argentina this past Saturday.

‘Even when we went our separate ways to other unions [after the June series], we all stayed in touch on a [WhatsApp] group, and when the Lions went on to make the Super Rugby final, there were so many messages wishing those players all the best.’

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While drawing closer together as a group, it’s clear that the Boks have also begun to accept real responsibility about the manner in which they honour the Springbok jersey.

On the team’s day off last week, the Bok coaches held a two-hour session to share their knowledge and experience with more than 60 club and school coaches in Port Elizabeth.

A host of players also went out to mingle with the public or to broadcast messages on local radio, while others took part in a 'Boks for Books' visit at the Walmer Primary School, where they read to young pupils as part of an educational awareness campaign.

Meanwhile, Kolisi made a surprise visit to the Provincial Hospital in PE as part of a 'Smile Week' awareness programme, while after last Saturday’s Test, pictures emerged of Bok players taking time to clean up around their bench area.

Of course, the Boks’ primary responsibility will always be to deliver results on the field of play, but don’t underestimate the importance of a close-knit team culture.

It’s that desire to honour the Springbok jersey and to ‘go to war’ for a fellow teammate that can often be the difference between winning and losing.

It was also one of last year’s missing ingredients that seem to have finally been added to the Springboks’ recipe for success so far in 2017.

Photo: @Springboks/Twitter

Issue 243

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