Coach Robert du Preez surely should not be seen as the sole scapegoat for another season of disappointment at the Sharks, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Saturday, the Sharks’ 2019 came to an end with a meek 38-13 defeat by the Brumbies in Canberra. If some reports from Durban are to be believed, it may well also bring an end to the rocky tenure of Du Preez.
Of course, in recent times, Du Preez has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after lashing out at a section of the media – infamously labelling them as ‘cockroaches’ – after the coach viewed certain reporting of the team as unfairly critical.
Enough has been said and written on that matter, but it has got me wondering about the tenure of Du Preez at the helm of the Sharks, and whether there isn’t more to this story than meets the eye.
In particular, it got me thinking about a conversation I had with a former top Springbok a few days after the Stormers had suffered a humiliating season-opening 40-3 defeat by the Vodacom Bulls, which sparked calls for the Cape franchise to immediately cut ties with coach Robbie Fleck.
As we chatted about the nature of the result at Loftus and the brutal backlash that followed, the respected former national captain in question admitted that, sadly, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Fleck fired if the Stormers lost another four or five games in succession.
However, he also made the point that it was completely unjust for only one man working at the coalface to bear all the criticism and front up first in the firing line.
The unanswered question was this. Where is the accountability for the background administrators in positions of power who effectively rushed Fleck in from the U21 ranks to do an ambulance job after Eddie Jones upped and left to join England before a real day had passed in charge of the Stormers?
And where were the answers around the bungling and mismanagement of players that led to experienced Boks such as Schalk Brits and Duane Vermeulen rather finding homes at the Bulls? Furthermore, were results being fairly contextualised at a financially embattled franchise struggling to recruit and retain players, with no big signings having been made in recent memory?
In many ways, it’s not all that dissimilar to the story that has played out at the Sharks this year.
After stints with former World Cup-winning coach Jake White and then ex-Bok assistant coach Gary Gold at the helm of the Sharks, Du Preez was jettisoned in to the top job ahead of the 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby season.
Before that, Du Preez had enjoyed great success with club side College Rovers and Varsity Cup outfit NWU-Pukke, but did he really boast the requisite experience and expertise to suddenly contend with the rigours of the top job at Super Rugby level?
The answer – based purely on results – is surely no. The Sharks finished eighth in 2017 and 2018, while just sneaking into the playoffs this season, ultimately failing to advance past the quarter-finals each year despite boasting powerful squads.
Moreover, there have been ongoing rumours for some time of Du Preez’s struggles as a man manager, his obstinance in dealing with the media and, of course, the much-spoken of tendency to back his son Rob Jnr at flyhalf over other candidates (read Curwin Bosch).
All in all, it has led to some disharmony. Last year, this writer reliably learned that Dick Muir’s departure from a stint as assistant at the Sharks was largely due to a difference in opinion over that exact selection decision.
Similarly, it’s been rumoured that former senior players such as Jean Deysel, Michael Claassens, Ross Geldenhuys and even Pat Lambie all spoke up about concerns over the environment at the Sharks, and yet these words largely fell on deaf ears, while a former Sharks stalwart such as Keegan Daniel also ended his career in Durban under unsatisfactory circumstances.
At the end of the day, Du Preez has made mistakes along the way and taken decisions that he may well alter in retrospect, but like any employee, he didn’t appoint himself. In terms of the upper hierarchy at the Sharks, what was the justification in elevating Du Preez into the top job with such limited experience as a head coach at senior level?
And when there were signs of problems at the Sharks, both on and off the field, why was there no action to make a change if one was required? Instead, those that raised concerns were seemingly rather pushed out the door.
The long and short of it is that the problems at the Sharks have not only been the doing of Du Preez.
And if one refers back to my conversation around the Stormers’ struggles at the beginning of the year, surely the criticism and questions that have been fired the way of Du Preez also need to be directed at the leadership – or lack thereof – of those who put him into this position, and hung him out to dry.
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