The South African Diaries Part 1

D1A Rugby: The South African Diaries Part 1
Photo Credit: Phil Terrigno

Phil Terrigno is a faculty member at Texas Tech University and the head men’s rugby coach. He is completing a six-week coaching and management apprenticeship with the Tafel Lager Griquas in South Africa’s Currie Cup.

I didn’t expect to shake everyone’s hand on the first day.  

At the start of the first Griquas team meeting I attended, head coach Peter Engledow introduced me to the players and staff and gave me a few moments to say hello to the room.

Immediately after the meeting, each person came to shake my hand. It was refreshing because in other work environments I’d been in, not everyone greets each other every morning.

Before the next day’s meeting started, everyone shook hands with everyone again.

Greeting each other in the morning is such a small detail that takes no effort, but it stood out to me as a massive culture builder that has a big impact on making everyone feel welcome. It’s just one of many things I’ve learned through the first half of my coaching and management apprenticeship in the Currie Cup.


What is the Currie Cup?
It’s the top domestic rugby competition in South Africa. It has two divisions and some of its member unions also field teams in Super Rugby and the Pro14.  


What is the training like?
With all of the heavy fitness training done in the preseason (which began in November for the Griquas), the day-to-day sessions during the season do not contain a great deal of fitness-only exercises. The heavy days (typically Tuesday) will involve scrum and maul work for the forwards and a full contact session for the team. Other than that, the team is not tackling during the week.

The coaching here is not overly prescriptive, meaning there are no long, drawn out explanations of drills or concepts on the field. The players have learned most of what they need to commit to memory about their roles during the ‘install’ period in the preseason. They also review it in brief daily classroom sessions, which are held 4-5 mornings per week.


What is the analysis like?
The Griquas film analysis is much more expansive that anything I had seen in terms of the number of categories they assess. For instance, there isn’t just a list of ‘tackles made’ or ‘tackles missed’ based on film review. The tackle statistics cover effective first tackles, ineffective first tackles, dominant first tackles, etc.

The attacking ruck entries cover first arrivals and second arrivals, etc., and the carries and gainline stats cover carries, gainline, pick and go’s and gainline efficiency.

Another segment of data that is constantly evaluated comes from the GSP after each session.

This is used to gauge not only how hard players are working, but which players may need a rest due to overtraining.

Experience coaching in the Currie Cup
Coach Engledow, who is the former head of coach education in the RFU, gave me several 15-minute blocks of training time starting during my second week that I could use to coach the team.

Each of the blocks were extensions of the day’s training. I would begin with an active warmup that also gives the players time to stretch on their own followed by two-to-three segments consisting of a microskill exercise (hand and shoulder placement on a tackle assist, for instance), a game and a drill with a competitive element.


Currie Cup level
It’s challenging to fully analyze the difference between rugby in the states compared to the Currie Cup because the states has not had fully professional rugby for very long and the Currie Cup is a historic competition (the Griquas have been around for roughly 130 years).  

A few tangible things that pass the ‘eye test’ are the violence and pressure involved in aerial collisions as well as the use of all the forwards as attacking options (playing the ball out with both hands, fixing the defenders and running tight lines).


Boks are back
Prior to the start of the summer test series between South Africa and England, it was announced that Siya Kolisi would captain the Springboks, becoming the first black player to do so in a test match.

Along with some of the Griquas management, I attended the second test in Bloemfontein. After tough results for the Springboks in recent test matches, it was refreshing to see them get two come-from-behind wins in the series.

From a fan’s point of view, Kolisi and coach Rassie Erasmus are an engaging, compelling pair that have helped raise the profile of South African rugby again.

Part II of the coaching diary will cover South African connections to USA Rugby, the management/communications side of the Currie Cup, my impressions of the youth/academy structures and what lessons from the Currie Cup can be applied to D1A rugby.