VIDEO: Gert Smal opens up on Province problems
Gert Petrus Smal was an institution at Newlands, during his playing days for Western Province and later as an administrator.
He returned to Cape Town this week as Currie Cup coach of the Bulls and promptly handed his former team a humiliating 40-21 drubbing at their new home – the Cape Town Stadium.
The final scoreline somewhat flatters the hosts, as the Bulls were clinical and dominant in the first hour – opening a 40-0 lead. The visitors then took their proverbial foot off the gas and cleared the bench, allowing WP to score three late tries.
However, the game was well and truly over as a contest by then.
In his post-match media briefing, the former Springbok hard man, nicknamed the ‘sheriff’, finally opened up about his departure from Newlands during a very turbulent period and eventual arrival in Pretoria just over a fortnight ago.
He admitted it was “a bit of an emotional decision” to take up the position in Pretoria, after spending so many years in Cape Town.
“It is a professional game,” he said, adding: “I have coached in different countries – [even with Ireland] against South Africa as well,” he said about his time as the Irish national team’s forwards coach.
“You go where the opportunities are.
“There is nothing in Cape Town. [Then] this opportunity came up.
“I am glad for it and it is a nice, new challenge.”
He added that it is a very different dynamic in Pretoria, which he regards as “very stimulating”.
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Smal also revealed that the dramatic decline of the WPRFU and the administrative controversies that bedevilled the union played a role in his decision to walk away from Newlands in 2019.
He said he wasn’t treated badly during his stints as a coach and administrator in Cape Town.
“It was purely what happened to the union,” Smal said about the dramatic decline of the Western Province Rugby Football Union in the last few years.
Smal’s contract as Director of Rugby with the WPRFU ran from 2014 to 2019, after which he went into ‘limbo’ till the Pretoria offer came up this year.
“I was very disappointed about how it [the union] was managed,” he said of a period headlined by the controversies surrounding WPRFU presidents Thelo Wakefield and Zelt Marais.
“That was one of the reasons why I left.”
He said the decline – from one of the world’s most profitable unions to bankruptcy, despite the rich property portfolio – was “sad to see”.
“It seems they have reached a point of return,” he said about the decision by the South African Rugby Union to place the WPRFU under administration.
Former SARU CEO Rian Oberholzer is the administrator in charge and by all accounts is working hard behind the scenes to restore a semblance of normality at Newlands.
“We will have to see how they put it together,” Smal told a post-match media briefing.
“That is the next challenge [for WPRFU].”
Smal, 60, after a three-year stint with Western Transvaal (now the Leopards), joined WP as a player in 1984 and played for them till his retirement in 1993.
In that period he was capped six times for the Springboks – the four Tests in a three-one series win over the New Zealand Cavaliers in 1986 and two Tests against a World XV in 1989.
It was a period highlighted by South Africa’s international isolation from the world stage.
Following the end of his playing career, he was appointed to a number of key coaching positions – starting at Border (now Bulldogs), Western Province (when they twice won the Currie Cup) and then the Stormers.
In 2004, Smal joined Jake White’s Springbok coaching set-up as an assistant – which started the relationship that saw him move to Pretoria to join the Bulls’ Director of Rugby at Loftus Versfeld.
They also won the 2007 World Cup and when White was replaced by Peter de Villiers as Bok coach in 2008, Smal was left out in the cold.
In June 2008, Smal was appointed forwards coach to the Irish national team.
During his stint in Ireland, they won the 2009 Six Nations, completing the Grand Slam for the first time in 61 years.
They also scored a famous win over the Springboks in 2009, where Smal reportedly taught the Irish pack some Afrikaans so that they could read the opposition’s line-out calls.
Smal’s contract with Ireland ended in 2013, after which he chose to return to South Africa.
In 2014 he was appointed the Director of Rugby at the WPRFU and departed Newlands in 2019.
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) December 6, 2021