Culture shock needed in SA?

The Bulls and Stormers need a complete overhaul says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column – One that looks to future proof their structures in a professional era, but also instils a culture to be proud of.   

“Players are just custodians of the jerseys and by the time they leave, their aim must have been to make the club or franchise a better place than when they arrived”

So says former Crusaders and All Black hooker, and current Hurricanes coach, Mark Hammett, who was in conversation with Matt Pearce at a Bishops rugby supporter’s club event that I attended this week.

In town to take on the Stormers on Friday evening after a gutsy and character filled loss to an incredibly physical Sharks side last weekend, Hammett is all about creating a culture or “Vibe” amongst his squad.

The Canes coach believes that at it’s heart, rugby remains a pretty simple game, and that coaching is about giving players the “Why” instead of the “Just do this or that”. A philosophy which obviously presumes a level of intelligence amongst said group of players!

Apart from the central contracting – something Hammett believes to be a key strength of New Zealand rugby – perhaps this is one of the fundamental differences between ourselves and the Kiwis? Do South African coaches allow our players to really think about the game, and in the process focus on the “Why”, or are a lot of them still in “Do this, do that” mode?

Apart from the obvious practical benefits of a salary cap and central contracting, having both players and coaches contracted to the NZRU encourages coaches to share their knowledge, and brings the players closer together given that they all play for a greater common good.

“The players are pretty tight as a result of the central contracting”, says Hammett, who believes “New Zealand rugby would go backwards” if they were to give it up.

It does go hand in hand with the non-selection of overseas based players for the All Blacks, though … And perhaps these two core ingredients are the key to a rugby culture that has seen the All Blacks edge the Boks in a rivalry that must be one of the greatest in all sport?

Create rituals says Hammett – people love them and make them want to belong … Don’t be scared to start a tradition now – It may be new today, but it will be an old one when you die!

Good old amateur era stuff, but in a modern professional structure.

Closer to home, perhaps this is where the Bulls and Stormers are going wrong?

An incredible start to the tournament by the Lions … Perhaps a wonderful indication that even in today’s professional era, a culture of “Heart, guts and playing for the jersey” actually counts for something? A new broom in Durban has swept in a defined culture that openly mimics the very professional set up at Saracens that sees players given proper responsibility. While in Bloemfontein it is about playing a unique and entertaining brand of rugby that looks to utilise the width of the field with ball in hand.

While the once great Bulls and Stormers seem to be floundering in this space … Having lost a whole heap of players to foreign currency, the re-introduction of the walkie talkie using, bench sitting Victor Matfield looks a little desperate and backward by the Bulls. And in Cape Town the Stormers, who will always be hamstrung by the amateur era constitution that sees the president focussing on getting elected by the 91 clubs rather than the rugby, seem to have fallen into the definition of madness trap that sees them doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different result!

Perhaps these two legendary pillars of South African rugby need a complete overhaul? One that looks to future proof their structures in a professional era while keeping some of the amateur era traditions, and swoon, creating some new ones!


  1. This is a stub article Tank. We need an in-depth analysis of the Stormers floundering on and off the field.

    – the lack of replacement of Rassie
    – the lack of delivery by the coaching team
    – the poor flow from Varsity and U20 to Vodacom to Currie to SuperRugby team
    – the talent jumping ship to other provinces in SA, let alone the international drain
    – the stuttering back line that never seems to link between inside and outside backs
    – the fact that the Western Cape is one of the richest breeding grounds of rugby talent in the world
    – the ludicrous purchasing decisions of mediocre and old talent to bolster ranks in the SuperRugby team because of the lack of flow
    – the short-sightedness to not move rugby to the Cape Town Stadium rather than Newlands

    I can keep writing, but it’s just making me angry again

    1. Thanks for finishing it off for me Joel … With your comment it is no longer a “Stub” 🙂 … Thank you … And I would probably agree with all your points. WP need a thorough overhaul, and I mean thorough – one that includes the constitution

  2. Some 35 years ago I spent a winter in New Zealand. Was dating a girl whose brother played for Canterbury. On my return to SA I ran into the late Mickey Gerber. We both attended Grey High PE. He was then heavily involved with Tvl rugby. I told him I was very impressed with the Rugby setup in NZ. Some of the things they did, how people were involved and how good their rugby was. I thought a visit to that country to learn from people whom I thought were doing things right, would be in order. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that there was nothing the Kiwis could teach them, they (Tvl) had the best system going. He appreciated my concern but as I was not involved in the ” workings” of Tvl. rugby I should continue to be a supporter and not a critic. Seems like the Stormers/WP are suffering from the same malaise. Get rid of the dead wood/old farts and bring in people who are not only passionate about the game but can think broadly. I’m sure that will help.

    1. Such a good point Hammy. And that is why Varsity Cup has succeeded. They have not been shy to learn from what is happening in the states re College Football. This laager approach where we believe we cannot learn from anyone, and are not willing to share, is a cardinal reason for us stagnating a little as a rugby nation

  3. Hammy, the bloody fools. Arrogance to the point of stupidity. I know exactly what you are talking about as my son played u/15 representative rugby for Canterbury and the professionalism of all involved, dedication to the jersey and ethos that you see in the open grade Canterbury side runs right through all the age groups to the 10 year olds. Mark Hammett has come through the Canterbury system and that giving the players “why” that he talks about happens at provincial level and club level at practices which are intense affairs. There are no coaches barking orders down walkie talkies or from the sidelines on gameday- all of that stuff has been done at practice and the players are given the latitude to figure out what tinkering with the gameplan is necessary out on the field – normally done by the team leaders of which there will be 3 or 4 out on the field.

    1. The other interesting point that Hammett made, was that many rugby players in NZ come from under privileged backgrounds — in that life is not brought to them on a silver spoon, and they have parents who have to work really hard to put food on the table … I get the feeling that our lighties are given bursaries very early in life, and then just expect everything to be given to them, instead of having to work for it. Obviously a bit of a generalisation, but we do tend to miss that “Play for your team and jersey” mentality, even at school level

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