The winds of change are sweeping across the Shark Tank and while that does not mean that things are necessarily bad right now, far from it with the Sharks top of the SA Conference in Super Rugby, but it does mean that a bright new era is in store for rugby in this province.
And it is not just about a shiny new pin in John Smit moving into the hot seat as CEO, it started some time ago with key appointments in the greater structure of rugby administration in the province.
The new Chairman of the Board of Directors, Steven Saad, is one of the most respected businessmen in the country thanks to the success of his company Aspen Pharmacare, the pharmaceutical giants based in Umhlanga Rocks. Not long ago he featured well inside the Top Ten in a national Sunday newspaper’s list of the county’s wealthiest men. He knows how to make things happen, he is Durban born and bred, is a passionate rugby man and he is now directing general rugby operations in KZN in his spare time. This can only be a good thing.
Last year, one of the giants of club rugby in KZN, Graham Mackenzie, was elected president of the amateur arm of rugby in this province, the KZNRU. His achievement in building College Rovers into the national club rugby success that they are cannot be underestimated. Mackenzie is a politician and is passionate about grass roots rugby. Again, this can only be a good thing.
And now there is the recruitment of Smit, the most capped ever Springbok (111) and by far the most capped captain. You do not achieve that kind of record without being damn good at what you do and very savvy about how to survive in the merciless and sometimes treacherous world of South African rugby.
He is set to succeed Brian van Zyl, an administrator that is highly regarded by his fellow CEOs and who has built a fiercesome reputation over an incredible 20-years as boss of the professional arm of KZN rugby, The Sharks.
“BJ,” as he is nick-named, has never backed away from a fight and has made his share of enemies, including some local ex-players, but nobody can dispute that he has always fought for what he believed was for the good of his franchise, especially when battling with the South African Rugby Union.
His knowledge, experience and understanding of the politics of South African rugby, allied to his innate stubbornness and unwillingness to back down from a fight, have made him a formidable CEO and one who will be hard to replace.
Enter Smit, just 35 and in fact still playing hooker for Saracens in England. But he will learn quickly and it is certain that the likes of Saad and Mackenzie will surround him with the support he needs as he learns the ropes.
Ideally, Smit could learn from BJ during a mentorship period because it would be a pity to lose the knowledge garnered by a wily campaigner. This, however, might not be possible, and depends on how the handover/takeover period is structured.
However it works out, Smit will succeed because he is intelligent, already has a good working knowledge of rugby politics from his 13-year-career with the Sharks and Springboks and has the desire to make a difference.
From his own experience he has a good working knowledge of the tricky business of player contracts and petty team politics but, most of all, few understand the minds of rugby players better than Smit. On 83 occasions he led the Springboks in mortal combat. He knows what players want, what they need, what they in turn need to bring to the party. In short, when it comes to rugby, Smit knows what is real and what is bulldust.
by Mike Greenaway
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