Everitt’s Start At Edinburgh Shows SA Influence Holds Promise For Scotland

 

A second successive Springbok success at the Rugby World Cup has an obvious positive spin-off for rugby in the nation the team represents but it could also benefit the other countries that are now appreciating the value that could come from employing South African coaches.

That is particularly the case for Scotland, who now have both their two Vodacom United Rugby Championship teams being coached by South Africans in the form of Franco Smith (Glasgow Warriors) and Sean Everitt, the former Hollywoodbets Sharks coach who took charge of Edinburgh during the off-season.

Both teams are in the top eight after four games, and while Glasgow are in pole position and seven places ahead of their 1872 Cup derby rivals, there are only three points separating the teams as the competition goes into a weekend that will see Everitt pitted against his old friend and rival, Vodacom Bulls coach Jake White.

The 53-year-old took up a position at the Bulls after he left the Sharks late last year, and then answered an unexpected call to join Edinburgh, something he says happened pretty much overnight.

“As you know I was at the Bulls at the time, I had signed a long term contract, but there was a clause that allowed me to move if I got an offer to fill a senior position at another club,” says Everett.

“It did come about very quickly. I was on a break when the call came, it was on a Sunday night and by Tuesday night I had signed for Edinburgh and was committed to the move. It was a very daunting prospect for me, as I had spent 15 years at the Sharks and six months at the Bulls, and in both places I was in very familiar territory.

“So coming to Edinburgh entailed something completely different, an introduction to new systems and a new culture, a new way of looking at rugby. I have been here for 10 weeks now and I am getting used to the weather. And what we know in South Africa about the renowned Scottish hospitality is true. I have been made to feel most welcome and I really enjoy Edinburgh as a city.

“Obviously first up I had to do some analysis on what went wrong in the previous season. The beauty of it was that they did attack well, and scored 70 tries in the previous season, and attack is something that usually takes some time to build. In short, the problem was that the team was between two defensive systems, mainly because there were so many international players who were exposed to a different system when they played for Scotland.

“I recognised that you don’t have enough time to switch the players to another system when they return from international duty, and also because of the World Cup they weren’t with us in the off-season. So it made sense to adopt the defensive system being employed by Gregor Townsend’s coaching group at Scotland.”

Edinburgh boast a 75% success rate, with three wins in four starts, but the breakthrough win may well have been the one last weekend, where a last gasp drop-goal broke a deadlock against Connacht, who were semi-finalists in the 2022/23 season.

“We had enough practice at winning games at the death, which was the converse of last season, where the guys lost a lot of games late. We did well to beat the Lions in a close game by holding on at the end and against the Dragons we had to come back in the last few minutes. The Connacht game was frustrating as we had done enough to win it but the score was so close.

“When we kicked off at 22-all with three minutes to go we had to put pressure on them to concede a penalty, which we did. Given we were on penalty advantage there might have been some who would have thought we should have gone for the bonus point try, but we just wanted to win the game. The players were so relieved when that drop-goal went over. A win like that builds confidence, particularly as it was against Connacht, who came back from 20-3 down to win against Ulster, who are a top team, the week before.”

While his responsibility is to get Edinburgh onto a winning path, Everitt says that helping the Scotland national cause is also a big part of his brief, as it is with countryman Smith at Glasgow.

“It’s perhaps a bit more so at Edinburgh than Glasgow because we are based at Murrayfield and are in the same building as the headquarters of Scotland Rugby. The Scotland coach Gregor is close by, and so is the high performance director Jim Mallender. We work towards a common cause, which is the national cause, so I have had their coaches in here working with my guys.

“We have 14 Scottish internationals in our group, so I work closely with the Scotland coaches to get everyone aligned. Gregor and company have been amazing. I have shared my philosophies with them, and vice-versa, and it is a great learning tool for all of us.”

With several players from South Africa playing club rugby in Scotland and several of them having played internationally for the Scots, plus two coaches from the republic calling the shots, there is obviously a strong and growing South African influence in Scottish rugby. So it was unsurprising to hear Everett say that many Scots were supporting the Boks in their World Cup final against New Zealand.

“We actually had an amazing day. We had played the Lions earlier, and fortunately it was an early kick-off, so we had a function in a bar at Murrayfield where we hosted the Lions and the families of the Edinburgh players. Everyone seemed to be behind South Africa, the Scots as well, so it was a great time and there was a huge celebration afterwards. We hosted the Lions properly, they didn’t have to use their South African rands to get a drink.”

Everitt reckons the spinoff of South Africa being World Cup champions for at least another four years will be good for any fellow coaches from back home who want to do what he is doing by working overseas.

“There is a great cross pollination of ideas happening in world rugby at the moment. SA winning the RWC has helped coaches from the country get positions overseas. The Kiwis were on top for eight years and their coaches got a lot of jobs as a result, and now it is our turn. There are very good coaches in South Africa, and some of the best of them are coaching at schools level.

“We played against Bath in the pre-season and it was great catching up with Johan van Graan (the former Bok and Bulls assistant coach), who is coaching there now and doing a really good job. It is so pleasing to see South African coaches getting out there and having their value recognised.”