Liebenberg feels the newby pressure
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: New CUT-Ixias coach, former Springbok hooker Tiaan Liebenberg, is feeling the pressure of being a first-time coach in the Varsity Cup competition. Tauriq Ebrahim reports.
Liebenberg takes over from Skillie Bester - who returns to his management role - and knows full well about the success of the two previous first-time winners. Something he feels places a lot of pressure on his shoulders.
"Franco Smith won it in his first year [Shimlas 2015] and Johnathan Mokuena won it in his first year [NWU-Pukke 2016], so now it's my first year and hopefully I'm third in line. Their success places pressure on me," he joked.
"Skillie [Bester] is still involved with the team. I think things reached a point where it got a bit too much for him - having to be the coach and manager. So the experience he has in this competition is invaluable to our setup."
Liebenberg is no stranger to the Ixias setup, as it was Bester's right-hand man, Jan du Toit who made a gentlemen's agreement with the Springbok to assist them in coaching their forwards.
"I spoke to Jan du Toit, a rehab specialist and someone who coached with Skillie at the Ixias, to help me get fit again to play after a back operation. So we had a gentlemen's agreement that he would help me get fit and I would help him out by coaching his forwards.
"Since then, I get along very well with the players. It reached a point where the Ixias management was in a position to employ a full-time coach and I took up the chance after having a good chat with the necessary parties.
"I am privileged to be in a position where my first coaching job is in the Varsity Cup but along with that comes a great responsibility. I have some butterflies but am very excited about what is in store and the squad we have," he added.
His squad will be without the services of five key senior players who have made the step up to the next level, but with a few changes being implemented to the overall structures, Liebenberg feels things are heading in the right direction.
"I went to search for senior replacements with the same calibre [as the players I have lost] and I am very happy with those we have brought in. I have a nice senior squad and some young players. I always want to have a good mixture of senior and junior players coming through.
"I'm enjoying what I'm doing, we having a lot of fun and are trying to build something that can last for a long time. I feel that all the steps we have already taken will be a massive part of the success we have.
"We have changed some structures in the club, our recruiting structures and the culture of the team into something more of a professional setup. Obviously, we would love to get the results knowing that because of what we did [the changes], we are taking the club in the right direction.
"We know we have a fresh squad, we know it's my first rodeo but we are chasing success. It may not be winning the competition, it may be just winning a few more games than last season but for me as a coach, if I can develop players for the greater good of rugby in South Africa then that is also a level of success," he stated.
By Tauriq Ebrahim