Don't blame backline coach Mzwandile Stick for the Springboks' dismal 2016 season, writes SIMON BORCHARDT, blame the people who appointed him.
Stick is set to leave the Boks' coaching setup to join the Junior Boks and Blitzboks' management teams. The 32-year-old will reportedly be replaced by Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith, who also went on the Boks' nightmare end-of-year tour.
There were plenty of raised eyebrows when SA Rugby announced Stick's appointment as Bok backline coach last April. The former Blitzbok had coached the Eastern Province U19 team to the provincial title in 2015 and been promoted to the Kings' Super Rugby management team, but had only retired as a player in 2013 and was just 31 at the time of his Bok appointment.
Stick clearly still had a lot to learn as a coach, yet was put in charge of the Bok backs by SA Rugby, whose then-president made it clear that transformation had played a role in his appointment.
'[Appointing more black African coaches is] one of the imperatives that we will make sure happens,' said Oregan Hoskins. 'There is a massive dearth [of them], so we have to fast-track people, we have to hold people by the hand and ensure that it happens.'
New head coach Allister Coetzee had no say in the appointment of Stick, and while he constantly backed his assistant in public, it was obvious if you read between the lines that he wanted someone with more experience to occupy the role.
Before the Boks' first end-of-year tour match against the Barbarians last November, Coetzee admitted that Stick is a 'young coach' and 'everyone has to start somewhere.'
But he tellingly added: 'Maybe you would say this [Test rugby] is not the entry level.'
It most certainly isn't.
If the SA Rugby suits had identified Stick as a young coach with potential, then they should have let him gain coaching experience with the Kings in Super Rugby and SA U20 at the Junior World Championship. Only once he had developed as a backline coach, and proved himself at those levels, should he have been brought into the Bok setup.
Instead, SA Rugby threw Stick into the deep end, damaging his confidence and coaching career. He may well recover from this and go on to become a top coach, but if he does, it will be despite of, not because of, his employers.
Of course, Stick is not the first casualty from Coetzee's Bok coaching team.
Defence coach Chean Roux was relieved of his position after the Boks conceded nine tries in a humiliating 57-15 loss to the All Blacks in Durban. Roux, who only had Varsity Cup coaching experience before getting the job, was replaced by Lions defence coach JP Ferreira, who himself is set to be replaced by Brendan Venter, currently involved with Italy.
Ironically, SA Rugby now plan to appoint Roux as the Junior Boks' new head coach where he will once again work alongside Stick.
Meanwhile, the man who's head should have rolled at the end of last season, Coetzee, will keep his job until at least the end of the home Test series against France.
If the Boks do lose that series in June, and Coetzee is fired, just remember to also point the finger of blame at the organisation that appointed him.
– Borchardt is the editor of SA Rugby magazine and Highbury Media's digital sports director
Photo: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images