The immediate change that former New Zealand coach John Mitchell has brought to the Bulls Super Rugby campaign has once again brought to the fore debates surrounding hiring a foreign coach in South Africa.
Bulls an example of foreign beneficiation
The Bulls under the direction of John Mitchell have begun the Super Rugby very positively in a way few would have thought possible for the side that finished 15th last season.
While the results have not necessarily reflected it, the new brand of rugby the Bulls are playing are reason for lots of optimism and could even be a sign of a dawn of a new era in South African rugby.
The key to this success has been their bold decision to simply hire the best available coach without prejudice and as a result, under Mitchell, the side looks like they are on track towards becoming the powerhouse they once were.
This is a leading example for the debate swirling around South Africa about the benefits of foreign coaches as the South African Rugby Union (Saru) have to date only ever seen the merits of a South African coaches.
However, there are lots more examples of how a change in attitude could see an immediate impact at the highest of levels, especially given the struggles the national side have endured under the tenure of Allister Coetzee.
Lions try it first
In 2010, the now Emirates Lions broke the mould of having a South African coach by announcing the appointment of Mitchell in a bold attempt to change the landscape of rugby in South Africa.
The risk paid off as he successfully led the Lions to a Currie Cup at the end of 2011 with a new brand of rugby that often emulated that of New Zealand teams in terms of the attacking mind set and expansive game play.
While Mitchell eventually parted company with the Lions due to fall outs with his players, his work can still be seen in the Lions today who are currently regarded as the best team in South Africa and have even be described as the future of South Africa.
Mitchell’s role in the Lions success cannot be underestimated. Whilst it was Johan Ackermann who managed to get it right, so much of the Lions core game plan is what was introduced by Mitchell.
Perhaps the best example of how the foreign coach offered something different to a South African coach is the Lions backline and specifically Elton Jantjies.
To aid his project at the Lions, Mitchell brought with him former All Blacks fly half Carlos Spencer who mentored Jantjies and a lot of then young backline and in doing so provided a completely different idea of how attacking rugby is played compared to the South African one.
How Eddie Jones changed the game
Without a doubt one of the best rugby minds in modern times, Australian born Eddie Jones has changed the way rugby is played. His success within the Springboks as an assistant coach as well as the Japanese and England head coach speak for themselves.
Jones was part of Jake White’s 2007 World Cup winning coaching team and his influence was very visible with the Springbok backline lighting up the stage and Bryan Habana ending the tournament with a record equalling eight tries.
During his time, South African Rugby Union (Saru) rarely acknowledged his influence and there remained strong opposition towards foreign coaches.
Jones stole the headlines again in 2015 as his four year tenure as Japanese head coach culminated in the Brave Blossoms beating the Springboks in what has been labelled the biggest upset in history.
The gravity of this feat once again raised questions as to why the South African Rugby Union were so opposed to hiring a foreign coach given what Jones achieved with japan.
The Stormers responded to this question by signing Jones to the Union at the end of 2015, but this was short lived as Jones was soon snapped up by the England national team following Stuart Lancaster’s resignation.
Since then, Jones has taken England to two Six Nations titles in the first two years of his tenure and have become serious contenders for World Cup winners in 2019.
Time for Saru to grow up
Given the large amount of success various teams have had by opting to hire any coach they deem the best despite their nationalities, it is high time that Saru rewrite their policy to incorporate the potential for foreign involvement.
Whilst this does not mean that a foreign coach will necessarily be the frontrunner for the job at all times, it opens up a new realm of possibilities that would more than likely improve the national team.
For the time, South African Rassie Erasmus has been tasked with handling the Springboks, but in the future, for the good of improving rugby countrywide, the mantle should be available to coaches both home-grown and foreign.