If you look at the coaches of the four teams competing in Saturday’s Carling Currie Cup semifinals what will hit you is how much experience is boasted by those who have mentored the top teams this season.
The Vodacom Bulls’ Jake White made his first foray into top coaching working for Nick Mallett in the Springbok setup last century. The Toyota Cheetahs’ Hawies Fourie was coaching the Boland Cavaliers decades, not years ago. And then there’s Jimmy Stonehouse. No more needs to be said. He’s become as much part of the area around Nelspruit as the Sudwala Caves. And it feels like he’s been around as long.
In fact, he’s been around so long that he coached the Cell C Sharks’ head coach Joey Mongalo when Mongalo played Craven Week many moons ago. It is tempting to say that Mongalo is the odd man out in the quartet, and if you compare his experience to what he’s up against, then he is. Also if you look only at the time he has spent as head coach. Which at provincial level is just this season.
HE’S LOVING BEING HEAD COACH
However, to suggest he’s an inexperienced coach would be wrong. He’s been coaching for 13 years. He’s no new kid on the block in that sense. What he is doing now though is getting his first taste of being a head coach at Currie Cup level, and not only is he being successful at it, he’s also loving it.
“It is like when you first discover you really enjoy golf and first really get into that sport - you don’t want the ride to stop and you want to just keep doing it,” said Mongalo after naming his team for Saturday’s semifinal against the Airlink Pumas at HollywoodBets Kings Park.
“I now know what my calling is, I enjoy being a leader of teams, I enjoy the dynamic of getting a whole bunch of people together and striving for a goal. I have enjoyed the tough times as much as the good times as that is part of the experience, meaning in the boardroom when you don’t get things going your own way.
“I enjoy learning from mistakes, I enjoy the toughness of having selection conversations where you have to look into a players eyes and be honest, I enjoy delegating, with JP Pietersen (backs coach) and Philip Lemmer (forwards) being the leaders in their respective departments. I have had the fortune of seeing a lot of head coaches do their thing, but it is all theory until you do it yourself.”
Mongalo will take up the position of defence coach when John Plumtree takes over the Sharks’ fortunes at Vodacom United Rugby Championship and Challenge Cup level next season and says he’s ready for the switch of roles but for him it will be with the goal of absorbing information in his ongoing education.
“I can serve as a defence coach but will be looking at it from a different eye, I will be stealing ideas from whoever that head coach is,” he said.
NO1 FAN OF THE CURRIE CUP
Mongalo took his Sharks team on an unbeaten run of seven matches before they were beaten by DHL Western Province last week and it propelled the Sharks to second on the log in his first season in charge. The Sharks, with different coaches and players in the key roles in the Currie Cup in comparison with the URC, have probably got more out of the domestic competition than some other franchises/unions.
“When it comes to the Currie Cup I am the No 1 fan. It you take comparisons with other countries, what we have is unique. We have eight local teams that grow talent and provide growth of talent opportunities in every aspect and every situation. Every team did well this year, the Griffons kept everyone busy. There were no easy games.
“Without the Currie Cup people would not know who Corne Rahl (Sharks lock) is, Denzil Frans from the Griffons we knew from the Bulls but now we know more about him because he’s had more exposure. I can name lots of coaches and players who are using the Currie Cup very effectively as their stepping stone.
“The Bulls and the Cheetahs have Springbok players past and present playing for them, it is a good quality of rugby and the coaches are being given an opportunity to develop. I think if we offered the Currie Cup to Ireland, the current top rugby nation in the world, they’d jump at it (as a development opportunity). No other nation has to this layer, this opportunity to grow coaches and players.”
DOESN’T SEE IT IN RACIAL TERMS
Asked about his growing status as a successful black coach, Mongalo said he did not want to see it in racial terms as that would be unfair to both his fellow black coaches and white coaches.
“I don’t want to be classified as a black coach, I want to be classified as a coach who has 13 years of experience and has been coaching for 13 seasons,” said Mongalo.
The Sharks coach has a high level of respect for his former school coach Stonehouse, and has warned his players that they can expect to be hit with plays in the Kings Park game that they haven’t seen before.
“The Pumas are a very good rugby team, they’ve got skietgoed (a lot in their arsenal), they are well coached and something right going on in their environment or they would not have won the Currie Cup last year. We are expecting a brutally physical forward orientated game. I have warned the players we might see plays we haven’t seen before, but when that happens they must just trust in their systems.”
RED CARD SKEWED VIEW OF FIRST CHEETAHS/BULLS CLASH
What makes the other game intriguing is that the two protagonists in the earlier clash in Bloemfontein played each other last week, with the Cheetahs prevailing in a battle of attrition against a Bulls team that led 19-0 at one point.
Skewing the perception of what happened at Loftus though was the fact that the Bulls lost Elrigh Louw to a red card. A card which by the way has now subsequently been rescinded, which is another argument in favour of introducing the Super Rugby system of having decisions about cards made while the player is serving time on the naughty chair.
Would the Cheetahs have won had Louw not been red carded? Considering how close it was in the end, and the 14-man Bulls were pressing for the win at the death, you’d have to say probably not. In fact, before the card the Bulls looked like they were running away with it.
So while the Bulls will be travelling away this weekend, they have every chance of winning in Bloemfontein. If they do, they will set up what could be an edgy clash between Bulls coach White and Mongalo which will rival that which has grown between White and Stormers coach John Dobson. And of course when the Sharks won the Currie Cup for the first time it was the Bulls they beat back in 1990 so a Kings Park final between the two historical rivals will have extra gravitas to it. And it could well happen.
Saturday’s rugby fare on television begins with the Mzansi Challenge Final between the Valke and SWD Eagles in Kempton Park. The Currie Cup first division final between the Boland Cavaliers and the Valke will be played next Saturday.
MZANSI CHALLENGE FINAL
Valke v SWD Eagles
Venue: Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park
Date: Saturday, 17 June
Referee: Christopher Allison
TV: SuperSport (211)
CARLING CURRIE CUP SEMIFINALS
Toyota Cheetahs v Vodacom Bulls
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Date: Saturday, 17 June
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
TV: SuperSport (201 and 211)
Prediction: Bulls to scrape it.
Cell C Sharks v Airlink Pumas
Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban
Date: Saturday, 17 June
Referee: Marius Van der Westhuizen
TV: SuperSport (201 and 211)
Prediction: Sharks by less than 7.