Learning from German football

There are key lessons for the structure and future health of South African rugby in Germany's demolition of Brazil, which was 10 years in the making, writes RYAN VREDE.

The Germans were brutal and beautiful in equal measure during their 7-1 demolition of the hosts in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday night. They were an unstoppable force for which Brazil had no telling rebuttal to. Even the staunchest Brazilian fans would have acknowledged Germany's superiority across all facets of play and, on the evidence of their performance, they are clear favourites to lift the trophy in Rio on Sunday.

This victory, in many critical ways, is a product of a decision made a decade ago.

Football writer Henry Winter's post-match analysis for The Telegraph sparked this idea for me. In it, he reflected on Germany's Euro 2004 group-phase exit. This was deeply lamented in a nation unaccustomed to football failure, certainly failure of that degree. They needed solutions and the then national coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, set in place structures and plans to ensure consistent future success (his foundational work was later carried forward by current coach Joachim Loew). 

Superior conditioning of national team players and prospects, a football curriculum which had the buy-in of Bundesliga clubs, the adoption of a uniform playing style for all national teams from U13 through to the senior side and the education of coaches were the cornerstones upon which their recovery and subsequent rise was built.

The road to Belo Horizonte has been anything but easy but Germany have once more emerged as a force in the game at all levels, including women's football.

Heyneke Meyer has a similar vision for South African rugby. He's run me through this vision and I'm a believer. I haven't been convinced easily or followed blindly. I've seen the fruits of a similar vision at the Bulls – their success under Meyer's watch, and indeed thereafter, was the culmination of a purposeful plan – and I am certain it can be implemented on a national scale to the benefit of South African rugby.

Like Germany's blueprint, Meyer would focus on conditioning standards, developing a playing style that is replicable across all junior international formats (one that will maximise the chances of consistent success), the deployment of skills-specific coaches to help franchises (eg, kicking coaches, scrummaging coaches, flyhalf coaches), a shared talent identification criteria for elite schoolboys, a high-quality coaching curriculum and coaching courses covering all levels of rugby, among numerous other ideas designed to improve the health of the South African game and ensure South African sides dominate the global game at all levels. 

However, this would require a massive mindset change from various stakeholders in the South African game, particularly provincial administrators, who have consistently put the interests of their unions ahead of the national interest. A central contracting system has already been rejected by these men, who fear it would compromise their Super Rugby campaigns. The irony of this is that their senior representatives agreed to an expanded 18-team Super Rugby format from 2016 which is sure to rob them of their prime assets through catastrophic injury.

These men cling to power at the expense of South African rugby's progression.

Super Rugby coaches are at fault as well, but I understand their struggle to embrace some of Meyer's ideas given the results-driven environment they operate in. These men need the assurance of their employers that their jobs won't be at stake if they invest in Meyer's plan. Indeed they should be seen as critical driving forces in the success of that plan and treated accordingly. This is not to say that mediocrity would be tolerated. But to the trained eye, a terminally hopeless coach is easily differentiated from one with either acute struggles or one who is operating in testing circumstances.

There are threats to the success of the plan that are out of these stakeholders' hands. The lure of the pound, euro or yen will continue to attract the best South African players abroad. One way to attempt to counter this would be to drastically reduce the number of professional players in the country and focus on establishing regional centres of excellence that cater for only the very best young talent in that region. Simple economics would dictate that the less average players suckling at the teat of South African rugby, the greater the milk flow for the sustenance of the exceptional ones. 

It can be done. South African rugby has the potential to be a dominant force in the global game, one akin to Germany and it's pre-eminent club Bayern Munich, in football. It requires a will to be that, an investment in Meyer and the perseverance through what is certain to be a testing formative phase.

Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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