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Surely the character is built?

In a weekend of close calls for Springbok and Sharks fans, the demand for explanations has been met with the cliches of 'character building'. Surely it is time for coaches to own up?

 

On Saturday the Sharks took on their bogey team, the Cheetahs – who are accustomed to struggling, but who have been exceeding in delivering poor performances this year.

 

The Sharks on the other hand are defending champions of the Currie Cup with some of the best structures and facilities money can buy – and they remain unbeaten through three rounds – just.

 

Three minutes from time the Sharks flyhalf, Fred Zeilinga, kicked a 45-metre penalty to deny the Cheetahs a deserved victory (this after the TMO also stepped in to snatch the win away from the Free Staters).

 

After the match Sharks coach Brad Macleod-Henderson defended their snatch-and-run victory insisting the win in Durban highlighted the character of the defending champions.

 

It seems whenever a team under-performs the coaches will run back to any positive cliche that allows them to hide behind the actual issue.

 

The Springboks took a leaf out of the Sharks' book for their match in Argentina, requiring a 77-minute late penalty to sneak a win against a team that, in all reality, should not have pushed them so close.

 

Once again, coach Heyneke Meyer hailed the character of his team in their lucky win.

 

The issue is, when a team plays badly why do you praise them? A win may be vital but positivity reinforcing a scrape-through victory should not be where you want to set your bench-mark.

 

Saying that a mediocre showing built character does not win over fans nor does it impress the pundits. What does increase your standing is honesty.

 

There are coaches to which we can draw distinctions against the cliche masters of Meyer, Macleod-Henderson and Bulls coach Frans Ludeke – who is nefarious in his use of the cliche.

 

Lions coach Johan Ackermann and Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse are both known as hard men on and off the field and their coaching style emulates that.

 

They are also straight forward in what they tell the public, calling a spade a spade and a poor performance a poor performance.

 

Ackermann has won much praise for his down-to-earth coaching style at the Lions, this has seen them impress in both Super Rugby and Currie Cup.

 

After the Lions lost against Western Province on the weekend there was no praise for a good performance despite the loss, nor was there scathing criticism – only hard truths of what the coach spotted and wanted to fix.

 

"At times we lost our structure, we lost patience in the game," Ackermann said after the Province game.

 

"If you haven't got a player who has played there [flyhalf] before, it is always going to make it difficult," Ackermann said of Nicolaas Hanekom, the late stand-in flyhalf.

 

Jimmy Stonehouse spoke earnestly with me before the start of the Currie Cup season about a squad member of his who he said was: "Poor in the line-outs and that is what is keeping him out of the team, when he can compete in defence he will play."

 

It is refreshing to hear this sort of honesty from coaches and perhaps it is too much of a big conclusion to draw, but isn't it interesting to see how well these 'minnow' team are doing under some solid coaching and management?

 

By Darryn Pollock

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