A unique Fan-Coach concept would deliver a welcome burst of excitement for supporters of the game, writes ZELIM NEL.
What if the unthinkable happens and the Rainbow Cup is iced before it can launch in April leaving us to live off the rations of four Tests against the British & Irish Lions between now and the end-of-year tours!?
I don’t know about you, but the thought of having to endure yet another rendition of local derbies is enough to send me to Tops on a shopping spree.
Fortunately, there won’t be any need to do that because I’ve got a Plan Z that I’m pretty sure Rassie is going to love!
Okay, here’s what we’re going do if there’s no Rainbow Cup… Fan-Coach Rugby!
Your vomit emoji may be a completely normal reaction – no-one expects rugby fans to be pumped about innovations after 20 years of annual law tweaks and marketing gimmicks that have taught us to equate ‘new’ with ‘worse’.
Right, so what is Fan-Coach Rugby? Good question.
Based on the US gridiron league known as Fan Controlled Football, here’s how it’s gonna work: shortly after the Rainbow Cup is cancelled, SA Rugby announces Fan-Coach Rugby will commence on April Fools’ Day.
The press release details a double-round competition between the Vodacom Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, and a call to action for rugby fans to register, at a nominal cost of R100, as an official Fan-Coach of one of SA’s Rainbow Cup teams.
What are you paying for? The right to vote on team selections and tactics. That’s right, every registered Fan-Coach of the Stormers will get logins to the official competition app where, on a weekly basis, they will select a matchday 23 based on a minimum of three options at every position provided by the real-life coach of that team.
The most popular lineup, as selected by the Fan-Coaches, is the team that will run out every Saturday for a double header at one of Loftus, Ellis Park, Kings Park or Cape Town Stadium on an alternating basis, something akin to Superhero Saturday.
Let’s say the first round takes place at Loftus. The Bulls face the Lions; the Sharks go against the Stormers. Jake White’s control over the selection of that Bulls team will be limited to nominating a minimum of three players at every position, from which the registered Bulls Fan-Coaches will log their selections and the player with the most votes in each position will start.
Sounds good in theory, but won’t we just see the lineups we’ve been seeing over and over again for the past two seasons? No, and here’s why: players are limited to two consecutive starts.
If the Bulls Fan-Coaches deploy Trev Nyakane against the Lions and then again the following week against the Stormers in Cape Town, he will not be available for selection for the Round 3 clash against the Sharks in Durban.
Fear not, if you’re worried that this rule – combined with injuries – might limit the options available to Fan-Coaches.
The players from the Cheetahs, Pumas and Griquas will be assigned to an open pool to be drafted to one of the four teams whenever circumstances require, with White, Ivan van Rooyen, Sean Everitt and John Dobson dropping to the back of the draft queue every time they pick up a free agent from the open pool.
But wait, there’s more! The Fan-Coaches’ contribution doesn’t end at team selection. Quite to the contrary, they’ll have access to the Live tab on the competition app where they’ll get to vote on tactical decisions, such as scrum and lineout strike plays, options from a penalty and the timing of substitutions, all of which will be transmitted to the team captain from the app manager via the referee.
If the majority of Lions Fan-Coaches want to utilise Cheetahs recruit Rosko Specman from a wide strike off a right-hand scrum in their 30, then that’s what they’ll get. And if they want to wait until 65 minutes to clear the front row off the bench for a late surge, so be it!
Meanwhile, Frans Steyn has been drafted into the Bulls No15 jersey and the Fan-Coaches are furiously tapping “Drop Goal” every time they’ve got the ball in enemy territory. Glorious!
The first iteration may not run smoothly. Technical glitches may impact the outcome of some games and that 100 bucks may be wasted because you’re not aligned with the popular vote.
But one thing Fan-Coach Rugby would deliver is a very welcome burst of excitement for folks who, for far too long, haven’t been able to engage with the sport they love.