Olivier selection – loyalty to the extreme

A coach needs to balance continuity and loyalty with keeping the team fresh and building depth says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column, suggesting that Heyneke Meyer may have taken loyalty to the extreme by selecting Wynand Olivier.

My favourite moment of what was a thoroughly enjoyable Springbok demolition of the Welsh in Durban last Saturday was Willie le Roux reminding debutant Cornal Hendricks that he owed him a beer for gifting the new boy a try that the man of the match could easily have scored himself.

One, it says a lot about Le Roux himself, and two, it says a lot about the team culture. This Bok side have been hugely welcoming and supportive of the two new boys Hendricks and Lood de Jaager. The high fives, head taps, man-hugs and quiet words in the new player’s ears speak to what looks to be a special close family type “Gees” in the team.

And they are starting to look like they are enjoying themselves!

With that Frans Steyn “Weight of the world on my shoulders” scowl now absent, perhaps this crop will better appreciate the fact that they are indeed playing a game that has the ability to entertain millions of people … And that we do not mind them enjoying themselves while doing so.

Culture, or “Gees”, so key in a team sport, is a particularly difficult thing to cultivate and manage, and for what we are seeing in the Bok camp now, both coach Heyneke Meyer and skipper Victor Matfield deserve huge credit.

Team culture is developed over time, with continuity and loyalty in selection often a driving force given that it is easier to build in a group that does not change much. Meyer, perhaps loyal to a fault, is an astute, well-read coach who thinks about the game a lot …

Every now and then an industry is hit by a “Ten Times” force – Forces or changes that have become ten times what they were just recently … Whether one uses that force to turn it into a successful inflection point is determined by the leadership at the helm at the time, and how far into the future they can see.

So says former CEO of Intel Corporation Andrew Grove in his book “Only the paranoid survive” … And in his book “Coach“, author Marco Botha, rightfully describes the arrival of professionalism in rugby as a proper “Ten Times” force, and Heyneke Meyer as the visionary leader who sold the Blue Bulls Company a vision that looked far into the future …

That being:

  • Put together the best available management team and develop them further
  • Recruit and retain the most talented players
  • Create a professional environment in which players can develop into world class players and individuals
  • Establish a science based conditioning programme that will allow these players to develop to their potential
  • Play a brand of rugby that is marketable, fills stadia and attracts sponsors

So without the budget to buy in big name players, he persuaded the Bulls to spend money on a strong management team so he could develop players. He won the Vodacom Cup in 2001, and took a lot of those players on a ride with him that culminated in the Bulls being crowned Super Rugby champs in 2007.

In his side that day were Gurthrö Steenkamp, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield (Captain), Pierre Spies, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, Wynand Olivier and Morné Steyn.

And I think that answers the question as to why Meyer went with Wynand Olivier on the bench this Saturday ahead of S’Buru Sithole, Paul Jordaan and JJ Engelbrecht (who seems to have fallen off the Meyer ship completely).

A coach needs to balance loyalty and continuity with keeping the squad fresh and building depth by introducing younger players when he can. To my mind this was an opportunity for the latter.

One Comment

  1. Olivier is an average to good player at best. A year before the world cup, shouldn’t we be more concerned about getting a team that will work together in preparation for the WC, than take a team of geriatrics?

    Young/new players should be brought through so that they are not dropped in the deep end come WC time.

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