Top coaches concerned about SA’s domestic product

Nick Mallett and Swys de Bruin have both expressed their concerns over the quality of rugby in Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup.

The two competitions have served as a double round for South Africa’s domestic season, with the semi-finals set to take place next Saturday, 23 January.

However, former Springbok head coach Mallett and former Lions head coach and Springbok attack coach De Bruin have clearly been left frustrated by the quality of attacking play being produced by the franchises. The duo were speaking on SuperSport’s Final Whistle programme following the conclusion of the Currie Cup’s round-robin action this past weekend.

Mallett opined that the quality of rugby was not up to the standard that was set by New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, criticising a perceived over-reliance on set pieces to earn penalties.

‘It’s difficult not to be a little bit negative on the performances of our teams quite frankly,’ Mallett said. ‘If you compare it with the way New Zealand cracked in with their Aotearoa competition, with teams really embracing the quick-ruck ball and ball in hand [style] they were reasonably high-scoring games, but the defences were excellent and their attacks were great. It was rugby that was worth watching.

‘When we started there was obviously issues with our fitness and conditioning. There were a lot of error-ridden games early on. Then it appeared that every single team that got into a tight situation just resorted to World Cup-final tactics which basically means driving mauls, pushing scrums for penalties and kicking an up-and-under from No 9 or 10 the entire game.

The former Springbok coach added that the franchises have a responsibility to entertain, which he felt they were not fulfilling.

‘If you’re waiting for other people to make a mistake … it’s like watching us playing Wales in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup which was not a good spectacle, it was great that South Africa won, but it wasn’t a good rugby spectacle for viewers. And we have to remember that we are in the entertainment business in rugby and we need to entertain people. And people get entertained by watching tries being scored through good passing, good lines of running, timing and good stepping.

‘To see a [Cheslin] Kolbe score a try is worth sitting there for an hour and a half in an afternoon. But if I’ve got to watch up-and-unders and driving mauls all day … and collapsed scrums and penalties … I’m not excited by that product.’

De Bruin, who served as the Springboks’ attack coach under Rassie Erasmus in 2018, agreed with Mallett, observing a worrying trend of actual ball-in-play time in SA’s domestic matches.

‘It’s almost like a storybook now,’ De Bruin said. ‘I can see there’s a scrum that will reset and reset again, then the advantage will come, then the next chapter is the penalty. From there the maul starts.

‘Before the maul there’s a little meeting with the forwards that eats up more time. After that meeting the lineout starts, but before the lineout starts the refs walk up and down through the lineout first. Eventually when the lineout starts the real thing starts, what’s going to happen now, who’s going to join, who’s going to sack and lift legs.

‘For me that’s become almost the story. In Super Rugby, in 2017 and 2018 we had 35 minutes of continuing play on average. We aimed for 40, if we got 35 or 36 we were happy. I spoke to one of the analysts and in the Currie Cup they’re hitting 24, 25, 26 [minutes]. So, out of 80 minutes, you see 25 minutes of rugby and that’s a problem.’

Photo: SuperSport