NAKA STEPS DOWN
Beleaguered Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske announced in early May that he would retire from coaching at the conclusion of the 2015 Super Rugby season. The Cheetahs have no chance of reaching the play-offs after a dismal campaign that has yielded only four wins in 11 games. Drotske has been at the helm since the tournament expanded to 14 teams in 2006 and the Cheetahs became a stand-alone franchise. At the time of his announcement the Cheetahs had played 141, won 45, lost 93 and drawn three under Drotske for a meagre 31.9% winning ratio. Assistant coach Os du Randt is expected to take up a coaching role in Japan while acting as a Cheetahs “ambassador”. Former Springboks centre Franco Smith has been appointed as Drotske’s successor. Smith guided the University of the Free State (Shimlas) to the 2015 Varsity Cup title.
BOK CAMP WAS LIKE A SCENE FROM A HOSPITAL DRAMA
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer’s first Rugby World Cup training squad was hampered by the amount of injuries to players in attendance. The camp began less than 24 hours after two big South African Super Rugby derbies between the Cheetahs versus Stormers and the Bulls against the Lions. As a result less than half the gathered 44-man squad were able to get on to the pitch for field sessions. It resulted in the unusual sight of flank Schalk Burger playing scrumhalf during one particularly haphazard session. If a player had the slightest ache the Boks management didn’t allow him to train. There is tenuous relationship between the Super Rugby franchises and the national team, and Meyer refused to take any chances with player’s health on South Africa national time.
Meyer also made the shock announcement that experienced lock Flip van der Merwe, who had been omitted from the training squad, had made himself “unavailable” for the Springboks for “personal reasons”. Van der Merwe was cagey when quizzed on the matter and said that he could “neither confirm or deny” that he was in a contractual dispute with the South African Rugby Union (SARU). The ruling body dismissed suggestions that they were at loggerheads with the veteran lock. A SARU source confirmed that Van der Merwe is not under contract with the union.
PAUL ROOS WIN UNOFFICIAL SCHOOL’S WORLD TITLE
Paul Roos Gymnasium recently won the Sanix Rugby Youth Invitational tournament in Japan. The tournament, which crams five matches per team into seven days, has become an unofficial mini World Cup. Paul Roos defeated Australia’s Brisbane Boys College 35-3 in the final to become the third South African school to win the title since the tournament’s inception in 2000. Previously Grey College Bloemfontein and Glenwood Boys High from Durban have won the title. Paul Roos have produced a record 48 Springboks while Grey College are second on the list with 45. The most recent Paul Roos Bok is current fullback Willie le Roux.
SMIT PLEADS FOR PATIENCE WITH SHARKS FANS IN OPEN LETTER
Embattled Sharks CEO John Smit took to social media to plead for patience to fans in an open letter after the Highlanders smashed the Sharks on their tour opener in Dunedin. The Sharks went down 48-15 for their fourth successive defeat. That on top of lengthy suspensions for Bismarck du Plessis, Jean Deysel and Frans Steyn for foul play.
Smit wrote: “There is so much that has been done, not done, said and not said, and along the way, the fans of a team like the Sharks justifiably feel heartbroken, hurt and in desperate need for answers. Everyone wants to know how we have gone from a conference topping team to a team leaking tries and in desperate need of a win; how do seasoned internationals drop balls and why does it seem very difficult to work out what the team strategy is? It’s impossible to dissect each one of the questions out there but having been a player that sadly played a part in some pretty spectacularly bad seasons in 2000 and 2006, I can tell you that the best made plans with the best players can often amount to nothing when a team loses its confidence.”
Smit tried his best to be reassuring, but his letter didn’t offer any concrete solutions but rather vague references to “implementing changes” and “leadership.” Smit did trumpet the fact that the Sharks balance sheet is in the black for the first time in years after two years of cost cutting at the union.
CHANGES AT THE BULLS
Several high profile Bulls players, including No 8 Pierre Spies, wing/scrumhalf Francois Hougaard and former South Africa centre JJ Engelbrecht have been linked to moves to Japanese clubs at the end of the 2015 season. Both Spies and Hougaard are out of contract at the Bulls at the end of the season and neither has been offered a new contract in Pretoria. Bulls backline coach Pieter Rossouw will also quit Loftus at the end of the season. Rossouw, who hails from Cape Town and played his entire career for Western Province, wants to move back to the Mother City so his children can attend high school in the Western Cape.