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RUGBY

Stormers’ talent-spotting guru Dave Wessels to bolster Saru player supply-line identification

Stormers’ talent-spotting guru Dave Wessels to bolster Saru player supply-line identification
New Bok high performance general manager Dave Wessels has his hands full to improve the fortunes of the Blitzboks, among other teams. (Photo: Robert Prezioso / Getty Images)

Dave Wessels, former Melbourne Rebels coach and head of rugby at Western Province, has been appointed to a crucial position at Saru.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) continues to restructure in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, with the appointment of Dave Wessels as high performance general manager.

With the role of director of rugby, which Rassie Erasmus held, being mothballed, Wessels’ new role will aim to align playing styles and talent identification across all the country’s teams.  

For the past two years, Wessels has been quietly working in the background at the Stormers, especially when it came to contracting and finance, in a difficult environment.

The Stormers remain under administration and compared with other franchises, their finances are stretched.

While the Stormers’ superb displays in the United Rugby Championship (URC) are the result of the work of head coach John Dobson and his coaching staff, Wessels has been influential in recruitment to keep the supply line strong at junior level.

The Stormers have claimed one URC title and been runners-up in the other, with teams that, while sprinkled with established Boks, rely heavily on players coming through their systems.

Wessels headed Western Province Rugby’s Pathways Programme and was influential in recruitment and ensuring that the junior rugby structures followed the same game model as the senior team at the Stormers. He will reprise that role at national level.

“Everyone at Western Province Rugby will be better off for the work that Dave put into our junior structures and future planning over the last two years and he leaves with our best wishes for his new role,” Dobson said.

The 41-year-old Wessels started out as technical analyst at the Stormers in 2008. His first steps into professional rugby followed his graduation with a Master’s degree in IT from the University of Cape Town, and he has spent 16 years honing his craft.

Erasmus gave Wessels his first job in professional rugby shortly after becoming Stormers director of rugby. While their paths have diverged over the past 16 years, with Wessels heading to Australia where he cut his coaching teeth with the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, they will reunite at Saru.

Saru chief executive Rian Oberholzer was administrator at Western Province when Wessels was appointed as “head of rugby” at the union.

“We are undertaking a review of all rugby activities and ensuring the structure is best purposed to meet the needs of our national teams,” Oberholzer said.

“These changes begin the process of providing better support for all our national teams and further changes are being considered.

“The appointment of Dave Wessels achieves two objectives – it allows Rassie and Charles Wessels [Bok manager and no relation to Dave] to focus solely on the national team while creating a resource that can provide greater direction and support to our other national teams.

“In particular, it will allow for greater emphasis on the strategic needs and future plans of our sevens, women’s and junior national teams whose requirements will now receive singular attention.”

Wider focus

Essentially Erasmus could not give other teams in rugby’s national ecosystem his full attention with his Springbok duties as well. Dave Wessels will fill that void.

The Junior Springboks have not won the Under-20 World Championships since 2012. The men’s sevens side, the Blitzboks, are in danger of failing to qualify for the Olympics for the first time.

The women’s game has been on a gentle upward curve since 2022, but Wessels will also have to put more energy into that programme in his new role.

In short, the Springboks are world champions, but the rest of the organisation could be doing better. Wessels’ mandate is to ensure that happens.

“Rassie gave me my first real job in rugby back in 2008, and I know what a good environment he runs. It’s a privilege to be part of a world-leading organisation such as Saru,” Wessels said.

“The needs of high-performance environments are always changing, and my job will be to offer support and create systems that will ensure sustained success for South Africa’s teams into the future.

“This is a big challenge, and I hope that the experiences I’ve had in various roles both here and overseas for the past decade and a half will be beneficial.

“I’m also very grateful to the Stormers. It’s been wonderful to be a part of the team over the last few years and I wish the guys all the best.” DM

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