Son rising: Rugby turns a blind eye to nepotism
The latest case at the Sharks reminds us why sound rugby decisions shouldn’t be clouded by family matters
Nepotism is a scourge that NGOs shout themselves hoarse about, especially when it takes in public institutions.
Rugby, though, seems to be immune to this, or maybe it turns a blind eye to it.
A recent example was at the Lions where their former coach Johan Ackermann saw it fit to fast-track his son Ruan into the Super Rugby unit.
Then there’s also the matter of Swys de Bruin and his son JP working together in the Lions’ Super Rugby coaching set-up.
In some ways it may make sense to some because coaches should be able to work with their preferred assistants, but when it’s a direct bloodline, whether it’s playing or coaching, lines can be permanently blurred.
The matter at hand now is what took place in Durban where a report said former Springbok and Sharks centre Dick Muir left the Sharks in his capacity as a consultant after a clash with coach Robert du Preez over the flyhalf berth.
Long story short, Du Preez’s namesake son had carte blanche over the No 10 jersey in Super Rugby and Currie Cup.
This was at odds with Muir, a former Sharks head coach and Springbok assistant coach, who favoured Curwin Bosch at 10.
Understandably, the coach has to have the final selection say. But whether it was the best rugby decision will remain up in the air. And it’s one that’s bound to make people unhappy.
There’s no qualms about the ability of Du Preez’s son. He may not be flashy, but gets the job done. In two seasons he won the Currie Cup with different provinces.
The jury will forever be out regarding Bosch’s defensive issues, with some rugby circles describing his dereliction of tackling duties as something close to military desertion.
However, the game has always had defensively suspect playmakers whose tackling inability hasn’t hindered them from being very good rugby players.
Wales’s Stephen Jones, Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara and SA’s Morne Steyn are recent examples of defensively deficient 10s who had successful careers.
This isn’t a defence of Bosch; it’s about why sound rugby decisions shouldn’t be clouded by family matters.
Muir’s a far more experienced and, frankly, a better coach than Du Preez, and his decisions could have and should have been taken seriously.
Defensive flaws can be coached out of a player if the coach really has the individual’s best interests at heart.
This leads to whether Du Preez senior was negligent in his coaching and encouragement duties to get the best out of Bosch while knowing he’s competing directly with his son.
Any parent would love to ensure their child gets the inside lane to success, but in a professional environment how is this managed to ensure players don’t feel they’re being cast to the periphery even though their talent and work ethic isn’t in doubt?
This is a situation that Muir may have taken umbrage with, even though Du Preez may have felt he had made the correct rugby decision.
In SA’s parochial and unfortunately racially split supporting environment, it comes across as Du Preez putting his son’s development needs not only ahead of the team, but of the country itself.
Muir’s departure leaves Bosch in a difficult position because there’s no one to fight for his cause at 10, where the queue is getting longer because of Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies and Damian Willemse.
There are also no guarantees that Du Preez could oust the above-mentioned trio because all of them excelled for franchise and country this season.
World Cup years do tend to throw up strange personnel permutations and the unpredictable nature of SA’s Super Rugby sides also adds to this.
Du Preez and his sons will remain at the Sharks but this episode serves to remind that radical thinking isn’t embedded in SA’s rugby DNA, especially when it comes to decision-making.