South African coaches cleaning up in United Rugby Championship

Disappointment as Stormers lost 14-19 against Munster in the final of the URC at Cape Town Stadium

South African coaches are flexing their muscles in the United Rugby Championship to dominate the race for the top eight and Champions’ Cup qualification. Seen here: Stormers coach John Dobson speaks to scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies. Picture: Phando Jikelo/Independent Media

Published Mar 26, 2024


As the third edition of the United Rugby Championship starts to move towards the business end of the tournament, South African coaches are flexing their muscles to dominate the race for the top eight and Champions’ Cup qualification.

As the Lions signalled their charge into the top eight with a 14-man, six try demolition of Connacht in Galway, no less than six sides in the top eight are either coached by South African-born coaches, or have some coaching pedigree in their ranks.

Three of these are, of course, three of the four South African franchises taking part in the competition, with the Bulls, coached by former Rugby World Cup-winning coach Jake White, two-time finalists, the Stormers and their mercurial coach John Dobson and now the Lions’ Ivan van Rooyen filling three of those spots.

As the log currently stands after 12 rounds of the Championship, the Bulls lie second, Stormers fifth and Lions’ eighth. The Sharks, who are investing heavily in players for next season, are 14th on the log.

Not just the SA teams

But It isn’t just in the South African franchises where South African coaches have found success.

Former Springbok assistant coach and Italy coach Franco Smith has been a revelation since arriving at Glasgow Warriors, and his side currently lie third, and will need a good tour of his homeland in the next few weeks if they are to challenge for a top two spot.

Sean Everitt, who was sacked by the Sharks last season, was appointed Edinburgh’s coach at the beginning of the 2023/4 season and has had a lot of success with the Scottish side.

Even though they were well-beaten in Cape Town this past weekend, Edinburgh still lie sixth with eight wins from their 12 games and are certainly in with a shot for a top four place if they can put in a final surge in the last few weeks of the tournament.

What makes it even more spicy is that they lost in Cape Town without their Scottish internationals, who are likely to all be back for their showdown with the Sharks in Durban, the side that Everitt used to coach.

The Sharks believe they have turned the corner, but Edinburgh will be hoping to exploit their weaknesses and give Everitt a victory that he will savour in their second tour match in South Africa.

The sixth and final South African coach in the equation isn’t a head coach, but rather assistant coach to Irish juggernaut and log leaders Leinster. The Springboks’ head coach Jacques Nienaber made shockwaves last year when he announced the move after the Rugby World Cup, and Leinster had struck gold in signing the head coach of the double World Cup holders.

Nienaber has kept a low profile since arriving at Leinster but is known for his detail and behind the scenes work, where he has been grinding away at crafting the same defensive system for Leinster that was so successful at the Boks.

Titanic clash in Dublin

Ironically this weekend’s top of the table clash between Leinster and the Bulls in Dublin will feature two World Cup-winning coaches - one on either side as the teams look to measure themselves before turning the attention to Champions’ Cup playoffs next week.

That’s why it is clear that it isn’t just South African franchises that have had a profound impact across the URC, not players across the territories that have popped up and made themselves known, but coaches as well.

And with the Stormers already contesting two finals and the Bulls one in the two years the URC has been running, what are the chances that a South African coach will once again lift the trophy at the end of the season?

With six coaches out of the top eight, those odds look pretty good at the moment.