When Allister Coetzee was announced as Springbok coach last week no one was taken by surprise, one of SA Rugby’s worst-kept secrets finally made official.
It was his backroom staff that created the real talking points, many saying 31-year-old assistant coach Mzwandile Stick lacked the necessary experience to guide the Boks forward.
Now Stick has spoken to Sport24 and answered some of the questions the public have been asking:
What does the appointment mean to you and what’s led you to this point?
My appointment as Springbok backline coach means a lot to me, my family and the people of the Eastern Cape. I believe it’s a blessing from the man above. I’m now coaching the Springboks because God sent me there for a reason – to inspire the young ones. It’s an honour that a coach of Allister Coetzee’s calibre wants me to be part of his journey going forward with the national team.
One thing I know for sure is that I’m going to take this opportunity with both hands. I’ve had to mature from a young age because of the challenges I faced – I lost my mother at the age of 17 – and had to make vital decisions of my own accord. I had the choice to give up, but I wanted to make my mom proud and ensure that I became something in life. Rugby is the vehicle which has driven me to success.
You retired in 2013. How’ve you found the transition from player to coach?
It has proved a smooth transition from the playing field to the coaching box. As a player, I was always part of the leadership group. I captained the Springbok Sevens side and the Kings, and I was one of the players that would regularly brainstorm ideas with the coaches and discuss strategy.
Coaching has been a natural progression and I’ve enjoyed selling a vision to my players…
You and Allister go back a long way. Talk about your working relationship.
The first time I met Allister was as 17-year-old when I was playing for Eastern Province and he was coaching. I can relate to his humble background because I also hail from the Eastern Cape. Allister knows my playing career well and I see that he’s done his research on me as a coach and what type of person I am.
Allister recently commented that he admires my self-confidence and that I stand my ground well. It’s an honour to be trusted by someone who has got that much experience in the game. I believe Allister, Johann van Graan and I will complement one another well as a management team…
You’ve served as the Kings’ backline coach this season. Your experiences?
I have to be honest and say that it’s the toughest challenge I’ve faced so far in my coaching career because we started on the back foot and had to put a Super Rugby team together in the space of two months. However, such challenges make you stronger moving forward in life. I have learned a lot from my fellow coaches and the players have bought into our vision.
You can’t fault the players because they have been playing their hearts out. We are often playing against stronger sides, where experience counts, but the boys always put their bodies on the line and understand exactly where we want them to be. Irrespective of the results, the Kings have helped me in terms of my coaching development.
What is the current state of SA rugby and which sides have impressed you?
I believe our rugby is in a healthy state. The Stormers and Lions (who are leaders of Africa Conference 1 and 2 respectively) have shown the value of 15 players on the field who are all on the same page. The Lions coaching staff deserve credit and we shouldn’t underestimate the amount of work that’s been done behind the scenes.
In terms of team cohesion, the Lions are a well-functioning unit because they have been playing together as a group for a few years and so understand each other very well. The Stormers also possess a good team, and it’s clear the side that heads the SA conference have forged a strong bond.
With the Boks facing three tough tests against the Irish in June, the Rugby Championship then to follow, fans will be hoping Stick can get the team firing and help Coetzee begin his tenure with a few wins under the belt.
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