Gert Smal does not shirk a challenge, that is for certain. In the midst of a four-day training camp in Cork, Ireland’s new forwards coach talked to IrishRugby.ie about the immediate difficulties the Experimental Law Variations pose and Ireland’s preparations for the November internationals.
As the team’s assistant coach, Gert Smal played a vital role in guiding South Africa to World Cup glory last year.
Now faced with an altogether different challenge as part of the new Ireland coaching set-up, the 46-year-old is eager to make a success of his first senior coaching position in Europe.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here. It’s also a great honour for me to be involved with a team like Ireland,” he told IrishRugby.ie.
“I’ve always wanted to come and coach overseas. The ideal for me was to have a head coach position, but I always said if I can get an assistant coach position with a top team like Ireland, I would definitely take it.
“The opportunity came up and I’m delighted to be here now.”
Smal has enjoyed his first experience of the Irish set-up this week and working with the players and his new coaching colleagues.
“It’s still very early days. This camp is really an introductory camp. Just to get to know each other, just to assess where the players are, what they feel comfortable with and build from there.”
Obviously, the buzz topic in Northern Hemisphere rugby at the moments is the ELVs and the former Springbok flanker gave an insight into how the Irish management are coming to terms with the trial of the 13 new laws, which came into force last Friday.
“Obviously it’s one of the challenges that lies ahead for us. We do spend a lot of time thinking creatively and seeing how we can approach the game.
“At the moment, it’s very basic in terms of what to do and getting information through to the players.
“We’ve got to look at opportunities and challenges lying ahead in each facet of how the ELVs influence the game – especially with a pack of forwards, there’s a couple (of laws) there as well.”
Coming to a country like Ireland, where many of the clubs and provinces rely on a forwards-dominated game, means Smal’s integration into the system should be an easy one.
“I think traditionally Ireland and South Africa both like playing with a strong pack of forwards. I would like to see that tradition live on, that’s my responsibility (as forwards coach).
“That’s where the game starts, that’s where you get possession and that’s what we must go and get,” he added.
The Kimberley-born coach will get his first taste of Thomond Park and Croke Park in November, when Ireland face an important series of games against Canada, New Zealand and Argentina.
Asked about his involvement in the preparations for those autumn Tests, he said: “Obviously it’s new territory for me. I don’t have any previous baggage, I’m coming in new, with fresh ideas.
“I want to stimulate players with ideas we’re bringing from the Southern Hemisphere, and vice versa, I also think they have a lot of experience and a lot of new ideas.
“I’m just looking forward to the challenge and to tackling everything head on.”