Wed, 30 Sep 2020

incredible 2009 World Sevens Series-winning Blitzboks team and others he coached in the lead-up to that landmark triumph.

Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick, who won the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and Treu's successor Neil Powell already rank among the most successful coaches the country has produced.

But also building names for themselves in tracksuits are Varsity Cup-winning former North West University Pukke coach Jonathan Mokuena, Southern Kings assistant coach Vuyo Zangqa and New Zealand-based Belfast Rugby Club coach Mpho Mbiyozo.

So how did Treu, who went straight into coaching the team in 2004 after captaining it between 1999 and 2003, inspire so many of his former students to become masters in their own right?

"When all those players came into the system, we always had a very high emphasis on continuously learning and leadership development," Treu says.

"Nothing in our team happened without consulting all those players, especially the senior players like Stick, Mpho, Frankie (Horne) and Neil.

"We tried to create a self-driven system, where players took charge over their success and their own learning. But also knowing and understanding where the buck stops.

"We tried so many things and we failed so many times, but the players just kept going.

"We always had consultants that came to speak to the team about leadership and about different aspects of life, just to make them better players and better people at the end of the day.

"I wanted to give them different experiences. I could call it experiential learning. And, because they were always in control of their learning journey, that made them more in control of where they wanted to take their careers."

'We had to change the culture'

It's a recipe that seems to have worked, not only to help the Springbok Sevens win their first World Series title in 2009, but to instill a lasting legacy in the Sevens team, the fruits of which Powell is still reaping today.

"We had to change the culture and try to become more successful as a Sevens team," says Treu.

"I think they all understood their individual responsibility to make it work. It was very difficult to create those kinds of standards and that culture in the team.

"Maybe now, as coaches, they can appreciate why certain things were done back then, and maybe they are trying similar things now within their teams.

"The discipline and the accountability within the team, which was hard on the players at the time, put them in good stead later on to become coaches.

"We brought so many people into the system to stimulate the players' thinking, from a creativity specialist to sports psychologists, to mentorship programmes.

"I had a guy that I asked to come in and do yoga and breathing techniques with the players. It was crazy back in those days. They would ask me: 'Coach, what's happening here?'

"I had a Russian guy who was in a Moscow circus and he did some movement with the players. Another guy, who was a master in karate, and had his own dojo, that I brought in for the guys.

"If you put all those things together, maybe that's what planted the seed in the players. It's incredible for Stick to win the Under-19 Currie Cup in the second year of coaching (EP Kings Under-19s) and for Jonathan to with the Varsity Cup also early in his coaching."

'I was very animated'

Powell, however, deserves his own credit for taking the Sevens team and turning them into a dynamic, driven and multiple championship-winning green machine.

Since taking over from Treu in 2013, Powell has led the team to two more World Series wins, the back-to-back triumphs in 2017 and 2018.

He also guided the team to the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold and 2016 Olympic bronze medals in the process.

"Neil is completely different to me from when I coached the team," Treu assesses.

"I was very animated, but Neil is calm and he has the ability to calm the guys down, and at the same time inspire them, something he had even as a player.

"He has the ability to take something very complicated and get it across in a very simplistic way. The year when we won the World Series, there were times when he and Marius Schoeman were injured, but we needed them to remain with the team to create that calmness and to bring leadership support to the rest of the guys.

"They were fully committed to making the engine work and to make the guys feel like, 'You know what? We can do this. It is going to be tough but it's OK, you have our support'."

Joining the list of those celebrated Sevens internationals turned coaches are Powell's assistant Renfred Dazel, Sevens Women's head coach Paul Delport, Sevens Academy manager Marius Schoeman, MJ Mentz (Pumas) and Rayno Benjamin (coaching in Japan).

Mbiyozo recalls a time, prior to the 2009 win, when the team culture was moulding into something that would later serve as the blueprint for his own coaching manual.

'Wee hours of the morning'

It was an innocuous night in Sydney, when the team was all dressed up and ready to hit the town to have fun, but ended up in a six-hour-long team meeting that set in stone what the team wanted to achieve.

"The biggest thing, besides winning the trophy, for me, which to an extent has shaped the way I coach, was the culture we built," he says.

"I remember we had a two-week camp in Australia, where we spent a week up in Darwin and came down to Manly for a week. One night we had made plans to go into the city in Sydney to experience the nightlife.

"Paul said to us he needed to chat to the boys quickly after dinner. We didn't think much of it and thought we'd be out of there in 30 minutes, max. We came into the meeting all dressed up to go out.

"But we spoke about what it is that we wanted to achieve and what steps we needed to take to achieve those goals. Before we knew it, we spent six hours chatting, from probably around 7pm to the wee hours of the morning.

"We ended up not going out at all. But we were building a culture, something that will sustain the success that we are seeing with the guys that came after us.

"Every team that I coach or am involved in, the first thing I do is get the players to understand exactly where we're going and how we are gonna get there."

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