The Rugby Debate: It is short-sighted to sneer at South Africa’s appointment of an 'exits coach'

Charlie Morgan
The Telegraph
Man in demand: Brendan Venter will join the South Africa set-up with an intriguing brief - Rex Features
Man in demand: Brendan Venter will join the South Africa set-up with an intriguing brief - Rex Features

Brendan Venter has accrued a catalogue of consultancy roles to rival George Osborne over the years, so it was little surprise on Sunday when news broke of a job with the Springboks. However, the official title of his position – defence and exits coach – generated a few sarcastic social media sneers.

South Africa Rugby pre-empted as much, tellingly feeling the need to deploy inverted commas on their press release. Head coach Allister Coetzee was quoted as announcing Venter’s remit would be to oversee “defence and ‘exit’ strategies”.

Clearly, some lingering, cringing tentativeness surrounding a modern piece of rugby jargon remains. It should not do. Exit strategies – essentially the practice of moving the ball out of your territory, usually following a restart or a set piece – require clarity of thought and purpose from an entire side.

Everyone, from whichever half-back eventually strikes the kick to the winger chasing via the lock subtly obstructing attempted charge-downs through the carrier and cleaners manufacturing a favourable angle, has a specific function. Often, an exit is a three-phase operation. 

Leaning heavily on the boots of scrum-halves Richard Wigglesworth and Aaron Smith respectively, Saracens and New Zealand are experts in this field. And, because they sweat the ‘boring’ stuff, success keeps coming.

Of course, there are alternative tactics. Leinster and Ireland prefer to keep the ball in hand in their own half, manipulating the back-field defence by forcing wingers to push forward into the defensive line.

But the dangers of over-playing within kicking range are obvious. One slip-up at a breakdown can throw away three points in an instant.

Venter devised and coordinated Italy’s remarkably meticulous no-tackle strategy at Twickenham. He has always demanded regimented accuracy. He will be well worth his wage to a struggling South Africa outfit, who deserve credit for explicitly acknowledging a vital aspect of the game.

The next question is how, or indeed whether, Venter will or should juggle his commitments with the Azzurri to those with the Springboks. November 25, when the teams are scheduled to meet in Italy, is an intriguing date for your diary.

Test rugby requires an exacting level of analytical detail and dedication, as evidenced by Venter’s latest specialism. Even accounting for the steeliest professionalism, he cannot be in both corners by then.

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