Bishops coach Wes Chetty is determined to keep learning his craft as he prepares for his third season in charge of the first team. DYLAN JACK reports.
A man from Cape Town’s southern suburbs through and through, Chetty is a UCT centurion, having played over 100 games for the Ikey Tigers. His passion for the game comes from his schooling at both Rondebosch and Bishops, two of the Western Cape’s oldest schools, and his involvement in UCT’s 2011 Varsity Cup team.
Chetty alternated between playing as a prop for UCT and in the front row for Western Province in the Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup.
Despite in a relatively early stage in his senior coaching career, Chetty has already guided the UCT U20 side to the semi-finals of the Young Guns competition, while also coaching the Bishops 1st XV through a solid season in 2019.
‘I am really enjoying coaching schoolboys rugby,’ Chetty said. ‘I do have aspirations of going professional.
‘I love this game so much and have so much passion. It is not something that is a burden to me. After coaching, I will get home and take the laptop out and go over a few games. If you look at my DStv playlist, it is just rugby matches from the past three years. It drives my wife mental, but that is just the passion that I have. I do have to thank my family, who have shown massive support for my coaching career.’
Chetty describes himself as ‘very fortunate’ to have been appointed as Bishops coach. As he explained, the chance to get involved at the school came when former Leinster and Connacht prop Stephen Knoop decided to return to Ireland, leaving a vacancy in the forwards coaching department.
‘It just happened that another good friend of mine, Stephen Knoop, who was the forwards coach at Bishops, gave me a call and asked if I would be interested in taking the forwards. I was playing for Province at the time and I thought it would be cool to do in my spare time. My wife is the head physio at Bishops, so I thought it would be a great chance to spend some more time with her in the afternoons.
‘Everything amalgamated from there,’ Chetty explained. ‘I started as the forwards coach and started doing some attack work. Eventually in 2018, I got offered the 1st XV head coach job, which was a huge achievement for me. I was the first non-schoolteacher coach, which is a direction, I think, a lot of schools are going. It helps with that pedigree and getting outside opinions and viewpoints.’
Chetty also credits the Bishops master in charge of rugby, Dave Mallett, for helping through his time at the school.
‘Dave was the 1st XV coach at the time when I got the forwards coach job and he had coached me at school and varsity. He played a huge role in getting me to Bishops.
‘Bishops is a great place with great young men and staff. It is a place for people to grow and get better. The Bishops boys take on an all-round development. If you look at Luca Liebenberg as an example, he played 1st XV wing for me in 2019, but not many people know he is one of the best saxophonists you would have ever seen. I enjoy that aspect of it, that it is not just rugby, rugby, rugby. I enjoy watching some of our boys play a bit of cricket or waterpolo.’
Not only is Chetty the only coach of colour in the Western Province A league, but he also ranks among the youngest coaches at 32. In a league with the likes of Paarl Boys’ Peter Engledow and Paarl Gim’s Pieter Rossouw, it makes him more determined to make his ideas heard.
‘It is difficult,’ Chetty admits. ‘In meetings, I have to be able to stand my own ground and make sure people respect me and what I do.’
In this regard, the good news is that it seems things are slowly starting to change. Mzwakhe Nkosi and Phiwe Nomlomo, whose KES and Selborne sides have excelled over the past couple of years, were rewarded with being appointed as the two SA Schools coaches for 2019. Nomlomo has since moved on to join the Sharks as a skills coach.
‘They [Nkosi and Nomlomo] are fantastic coaches,’ Chetty said. ‘If you look at the fact that I attended an EPD camp, there are opportunities. I would love to see more coaches of colour, especially in the Western Province Super A league. Just because there are opportunities and coaches out there. I would just like to see the chances come. I am all for transformation. But you also have to prove yourself. Your results have to be there. I wouldn’t want to be Bishops coach just based on colour. I would like people to look the results of the 2018 and 2019 season and see that my ideas are working.’
A particularly inspirational figure for Chetty is Stormers coach John Dobson, whom he played under at both UCT and Western Province.
‘I am very close with Dobbo,’ Chetty said. ‘When I was a player, I was sent to the Murray Mexted Academy. I had come out of school at Bishops and they sent me across and it just happened that Dobbo was on the coaching course. I had never met him before in my life. We got to chatting. I was 18 at the time and he told me that he was the U20 coach at UCT at the time and that I should pop my head in when I get a chance. So I went there and he coached me as a player for 12 years.
‘I have a good relationship with him. When I was 30 years old he selected me to play for Western Province in the Currie Cup qualifier. I think he trusts me. I was the interim coach for the UCT U20 Varsity Cup side in the Young Guns competition. Dobbo was the campaign mentor. He allowed our team to strap and get pre-game gear at his house. So I have a close connection with him as I do with Dave Wessels and Kevin Foote. It is nice to be able to turn to them when I have any questions.’
Despite being a full-time coach for only a few years, Chetty says he has already learned plenty and had to evolve his style since he started out part-time.
‘When I started coaching, it was my way or the highway. It was my way was always right. I have changed that completely. Nobody is the smartest guy in the world. That is something I learned from Dobbo. Nobody knows everything. You have to keep reinventing yourself and learning. That is why I am off to the Murray Mexted as a coach in July for two weeks. I am looking forward to it because I am going to learn more. It is an unbelievable opportunity.
‘I can’t copy-paste someone else’s style. That is not who I am. I like the physical aspect of the game. There is nothing wrong with pick-and-gos. But I like to vary our game. I always say, where the space is, you go. If the space is around the fringe, then pick-and-go. If it is out wide, then try a cross-kick.
‘I really enjoy Eddie Jones’ approach. It is almost a psychotic approach. I want my players to be the best conditioned. I want to ask unrealistic things of them. The more unrealistic we are, the better we will play on a Saturday. So, I like to be physical but allow my players to express themselves at the same time. If you get the physical aspect right, the running part of the game is easy.’
Photo: Peter Heeger/Gallo Images