Storm clouds brewing at Newlands



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Jake White and the Presidency of the South African Rugby Union (SARU) continue to hog the headlines, but there may well be another coaching farce looming large on the South African rugby horizon.

Whilst White finds himself battling the politically-minded and motivated members of the SARU Presidency, there is an equally damaging storm brewing at the head-quarters of the Western Province Rugby Union (WPRU), Newlands – ironically right next door to the SARU head office.

The Stormers coaching staff for 2008 has not been confirmed yet – even though rumours have it that the appointments are a fait accompli – but the ‘new’ head coach may be scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to team selections next season. 

We has reliably learnt that Western Province, and by implication the Stormers, faces a mass player exodus at the end of the year.

And it is not only the lure of strong European currencies that is cause for concern.

Unhappiness with the administrative upheavals in the Western Cape and reports suggesting that Alan Solomons could return as Stormers coach next year may see a number of star players migrate.

Seasoned Springbok utility forward Gerrie Britz, who has already signed to join French outfit Perpignan, heads the list of big-name players looking for greener pastures.

Fellow lock Ross Skeate is on the shopping list of a Paris club, while the Durban-based Sharks are chasing the signature of another second row forward, Andries Bekker.

And to make matters worse for WP, veteran Bok lock Selborne Boome will retire at the end of the year.

It is also a well-known fact that a number of European clubs, including English Premiership outfit Harlequins, are chasing the signature of Bok star Schalk Burger.

Add to this the names of players like Tiaan Liebenberg, who is looking to get out of his contract in Cape Town, as well as fellow hooker Schalk Brits, and it is clear the Stormers’ tight forward resources will be severely depleted next year.

That is unless there is suddenly a massive recruitment drive… which there doesn’t appear to be.

The main driving force behind the threatening exodus is the players’ unhappiness with the handling of the coaching saga and broken promises by the administration at Newlands.

Players are unhappy that Super 14 bonuses, which they were promised would be paid out in a lump-sum after the Super 14, will now be paid out in instalments as part of their contracts.

“They keep moving the goal-posts,” one irate senior player told this website.

The uncertainty surrounding the coaching saga – with ongoing reports that the new head coach and his assistant(s) have already been “earmarked, sounded out and accepted” the positions on the Stormers coaching staff for 2008 – is also causing unhappiness amongst the players.

There is a core group of players who remain loyal to incumbent Kobus van der Merwe, who confirmed to us last week that he would be re-applying for the post of Stormers head coach.

However, there are reports that this may well be a futile exercise. 

This website has been told that the application process is simply a matter of “going through the motions”.

It is public knowledge that Nick Mallett, the Director of Rugby at the WPRU, was the driving force behind the moves to remove Van der Merwe from the coaching roles at Province and the Stormers last year.

It appears nothing has changed.

Reports have it that a close ally of Mallett’s, former Springbok assistant coach and Stormers head coach Alan Solomons, is set to be appointed as the man to replace Van der Merwe.

But the real ambuscade is the fact that Cheetahs coach, and former Bok flanker, Rassie Erasmus could be his assistant next season.

The WPRU representatives and the Stormers Board met on Wednesday to discuss the entire set-up, including the financial dilemmas facing the cash-strapped union.

However, part of the discussion would have centered around the coaching saga.

It has also been revealed that there is a faction within the WPRU that have raised questions about the roles of Mallett and Rob Wagner, the CEO of WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd (the commercial arm of WPRU).

Mallett, who failed last year to axe Van der Merwe, is trying to convince the Stormers Board that Solomons is the man to lead the Cape Town franchise into the future.

But there is now some resistance from within the union.

It is not a surprise that ex-Bok coach Mallett would want Solomons, his assistant when Mallett won South Africa’s first Tri-Nations title in 1998 and took the country on a record-equalling victory run.

However, the Erasmus connection is a touch more puzzling.

This flies in the face of recent statements by Cheetahs boss Harold Verster that Erasmus would continue as head coach of the Super 14 side – despite giving up the Currie Cup job to become a technical advisor on Jake White’s Springbok coaching panel.

It is believed that Erasmus is no longer interested in a position as head coach and would rather take a back-seat where his astute analytical skills could be better utilised. He could, however, find his path blocked by Verster, who is keen to ensure Erasmus stays committed to the Bloemfontein outfit, which could lead to yet another high-profile tug-‘o-war.

The ‘application process’ has not even formally started, but the entire procedure already appears to be clouded in the same controversy that hovers over the game at national level.

Another issue that is upsetting the WP/Stormers is the uncertainty over their training facilities.

They were to be relocated to the ‘new’ facility in Bellville, which was meant to be updated and become their permanent ‘home’. However, the upgrading process has hit a few snags and the players are now back training at facilities in Newlands and Claremont, such as the Villagers club.

While management have assured the players that the ‘upgrading process’ is going ahead, despite the delays, this website’s information is that the process has been “postponed indefinitely”.

And, of course, there are also the ongoing concerns over the WPRU’s financial situation, which is placing a heavy burden on the commercial arm (WP Rugby) and thus also affecting effective recruiting.

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital

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