By: Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Port Elizabeth – One of the best ways to squeeze a fair deal out of life is not only to accept that your circumstances are your own, but to foster the kind of intimate relationship with them that may improve them.
While not quite resigned to it just yet, Southern Kings coach Deon Davids – after 27 years of coaching – understands that the only constant in the jobs he’s done is that he’s had to do them the ambulance way or with a heavy dose of crisis management.
Throughout his coaching stints – from the University of the Western Cape, the Boland Cavaliers, SWD Eagles and the Golden Lions to the Southern Kings – Davids has had to beg, borrow and steal to get a competitive team onto the park.
“If you look at my CV, you can clearly see that in my coaching career I’ve never had the opportunity to work with the best guys. I’ve always dealt with teams that were in trouble,” he says. “My whole career has prepared me to coach the way I do.”
While he says he would “love to work with some of the best talent in the country one day”, Davids has his hands full with exactly the kind of job his career has been setting him up for – making the Kings a competitive side.
After a return from the Super Rugby wilderness that saw them concede an average of almost 46 points a game last year, the Kings have still mostly lost, but have been competitive this year – thanks to Davids being hired literally a couple of weeks before the season started.
Their one win after five rounds was in an away game against the Sunwolves, which the Cheetahs, Bulls and Stormers will tell you is no mean feat after close shaves with the Japanese side. The Kings have shown that they are no easy beats this year.
Davids, a Cavaliers eighthman when Mike Bayly was coach at Boland, attributed the spine shown by the Kings to three things: out-of-the box recruitment; conditioning from having an off season; and refusing to compromise on their own standards.
As ever with struggling teams, the Kings have their fair share of players seemingly with nowhere to turn, including Louis Schreuder, Lionel Cronje, Schalk Ferreira, Wandile Mjekevu, Luzuko Vulindlu and Ricky Schroeder, among others.
Too talented to retire
But Davids’ eye for talent and his people management skills have seen him pull some rabbits out of the hat.
About flanker Andisa Ntsila, Davids says: “I was head coach of the George Academy and he was a student at Saasveld Campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. We’d just finished a gym session and I saw him training and asked if he played rugby.
“He said he did, but not seriously, and I asked him to join us. Back then, he played outside centre and I told him he was a flank. I contracted him with the SWD Eagles Academy and he was man of the match in pretty much every game we played – he’s got such wonderful running skills and game sense.”
Cronje was disillusioned when he bumped into Davids – who used to be the assistant coach when the fly half played for the Under-20s – at the airport in East London and was convinced to hold his horses “because he was too young and too talented to retire”.
There are more stories – such as the year Davids found a young Anthony Volmink kicking a rugby ball on the local field in his hometown of Bredasdorp on Christmas Day and went on to take him and Uzair Cassiem, who played for him at UWC, to the Lions.
But none of that would have been possible without an off season, during which Davids credits conditioning coach Nadus Nieuwoudt with “brilliant” work. Davids also introduced an interesting squad system.
“We wanted to have two sides in the squad and we didn’t compromise on quality. We had what we called the Kings’ Standard, and we consistently put them under pressure to accelerate their learning.”
Nearly upsetting the Sharks in their 19-17 defeat three weeks ago went a long way towards vindicating the “culture of positivity” that the Kings have adopted under Davids.
However, after all of this, they could still be sent packing as a South Africa side may be cut from the competition in a restructuring process that will see only 15 teams on the field.
“We’ve got this policy – we only control what we can,” says Davids. “Because people are talking and it’s in the back of the players’ minds, we don’t question the players’ efforts, even when they go home to their families and talk to their agents.”