Michaelhouse’s Head of Sport Ryno Combrinck, who is widely acknowledged as being one of the best schoolboy rugby coaches in South Africa has been appointed as the Paul Roos Head of Rugby starting in 2018.
Before going on to make a name for himself a strong on discipline coach with an outstanding rugby brain, Combrinck was once upon a time a provincial rugby player and had the distinct honour of playing alongside his brother Gerhard at Northern Transvaal or the Blue Bulls as they have always been known. Rugby genes run in the Combrinck family with nephew and current Lions Super Rugby player Ruan going one step better to become a Springbok.
In spite of a long and proud rugby history, Michaelhouse has only produced four Springboks, Ruan Combrinck, Pat Lambie, Pat Cilliers and Ross Cronje. Significantly all four have earned their international honours within the last decade, making Michaelhouse a top contributor to the SA national cause during this modern era period. Along the way all four of House’s Boks together with a host of other promising school teammates who have also gone on to feature at various levels in provincial rugby, were coached and mentored by Ryno who has been at the private boarding school in Balgowan in the Natal Midlands since 2004. House have produced some outstanding teams during Ryno’s time including their 2015 1st XV which was the first House team in over 100 years to go unbeaten. While Ryno was the capacity of coach or the hands on Director of Rugby, House were definitely known for their enterprising brand of rugby which showcased ball-skills and well-defined player roles. Backline moves executed at pace and with high precision have been amongst the most memorable facets of the play witnessed on the Meadows over the years.
Paul Roos ready to step it up a gear
Paul Roos really does not need any sort of school rugby introduction in SA. They have always been and are likely to continue being one of the most successful schools in the country for generations to come. Along with Affies of Pretoria, Grey College of Bloemfontein and the Paarl schools Boy’s High and Gymnasium, the five schools are often referred to as the “powerhouses” and feel the pressure of high expectations year in year out. However in recent years Paul Roos has ever so slightly slipped into the shadow cast by fellow Winelands region rivals Paarl Boys’ High and Paarl Gymnasium.
Looking at what’s coming through in terms of rugby talent at Paul Roos over the next couple of seasons, there is a lot to suggest that the Maroon Machine is ready for a much larger chunk of the limelight beginning in 2018.
The appointment of new rector Andre van Staten earlier in 2017 has set in motion a process geared towards quickly making up any ground lost in rugby, which is bound to see Paul Roos at the very least knocking harder on the door that containing the number 1 on it.
Acquiring Ryno Combrinck can therefore only be described as a huge coup in that drive to improve on an already good product.
Interestingly in addition to his main rugby role, Ryno looks likely to step into the classroom as a teacher at Paul Roos as well.
KZN churning out top coaches
Ryno is one of a handful of top coaches who have been involved in KZN school rugby. At Hilton, their old boy and coach Brad McLeod-Henderson took time off to win the Currie Cup as the Sharks head coach before returning to his old school. In order to become the most well-known assistant coach in SA provincial rugby, Swys de Bruin had to resign from his post at Northwood before joining the Lions a few years ago. These days Paarl Boys’ High’s head coach Sean Erasmus, formerly of Glenwood in KZN, is arguably the top school rugby coach in SA and with a remarkable three unbeaten seasons (locally) under the belt, one has to say it’s an achievement that legends are made of. Stars on the rise include rated KZN head coaches Jeremy McLaren (Glenwood) and Scott Mathie (DHS), while experienced men like Grant Bell (Clifton) and Barend Steyn (Kearsney) would hold their own at any consistent top achieving rugby school.
Plenty of changes at Michaelhouse
With the term “professionalism” being more topical at Balgowan now than ever before, particularly in light of what’s happening at Hilton College, it’s not the most advantageous time for Michaelhouse to lose the sort of top rugby man who could have guided them in this direction without impacting too greatly on their ethos.
In truth some of those close to the school feel that ever since the Director of Rugby post was made away with a couple of years ago, Ryno Combrinck’s rugby coaching pedigree had not been maximised on and it was showing in the results across the board. Filling the void left by someone of his potential won’t be easy.
The school has already waved goodbye to former 1st XV head coach Michael Schwartz this year. Current 1st XV coach Andre van Wyk has also stepped down but will likely be involved at a junior A-team level. Old boy and provincial rugby physiotherapist James Fleming has been brought on board to help steer House’s rugby as the master in charge in addition to being the Head of Sports Medicine. Although he has professional level coaching and HP work listed on his CV as well as passion for both rugby and House, there is still a challenge ahead for him to convince all that he’s up to the task as a rock solid coach rather than a physio who happens to be able to coach.
The most significant Michaelhouse change happens right at the top though. Their rector Greg Theron has opted out of a new contact and will depart at the end of the year. House’s academics is very strong, the arts and culture activity curriculum is good and the school continues to be fully subscribed, even at its premium fees. There cannot be many complaints. This is a school that is doing very well in just about all respects. It’s perhaps just in sport where the next head might see opportunity for improvement.