Top u19 recruiter Gavin Melvill leaves the Sharks

Former Natal centre from the 1970’s Gavin Melvill makes up 17 years worth of a total of 227 years of coaching experience that will no longer be part of the Sharks set up as a result of personnel departures. Melvill has serviced in different roles at the rugby union but has always had a hands on approach with regards to the contracting of junior players.

Ever since 1992, the Sharks have been labeled as importers of talent. It is still true today but does not tell the full story because many of these out of province top recruits that arrive at Kings Park come straight out of high school and are not ready for senior rugby. These youngsters are developed over a few years in the Sharks Academy before they make their senior team debuts. Over and above this under former Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl’s leadership of the organization, maintaining a healthy balance sheet was key and as a result the junior player recruitment programme was run on the type of tight budget that dictated a quality over quantity recruitment strategy and left little room for decision-making errors when signing youngsters.

This is where Melvill fitted. He was the talent scout. It was his job to find and sign top quality school players, and not just any good players either. Crucially these players had to display the potential to do well in rugby after school and they had to in positions that conformed with the Sharks’ succession plans to ensure that whenever a senior moved overseas or retired there was a capable youngster ready to take his place. In the absence of a big recruitment budget which allows room for error, the Sharks job was and is still very much about identifying the right school players and making them the right kind of offers to ensure they pledged their immediate futures to the Durban based rugby union and not any of its rival.

Kearsney College headmaster Elwyn van den Aardweg was once a Pretoria Boys High School teacher and spoke of the huge interest the Bulls expressed in John Smit while he was still a scholar at the North Gauteng school and yet it was the Sharks who acquired the services of the man who went on to become the most capped Springbok captain in history and is now the CEO of the Sharks. Melvill helped sign Smit from under the Bulls’ noses back in 1996.

Melvill also had a hand in signing the star players from Grey College in Bloemfontein like Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Steyn and Paul Jordaan.

Current stars like Pat Lambie and Pieter-Steph du Toit as well as rising stars in Thomas du Toit and André Esterhuizen are all at the Sharks via the trust placed in Melvill to make the right calls.

In KwaZulu-Natal, there is an on-going concern amongst a good number of schools and parents that the Sharks officials are not watching their boys. Gavin Melvill was by no means a high profile personality and neither did he take to announcing his presence at any school rugby games and nor was his mandate to ever give preference to local school players but it was surprising just how much he knew about the best players in the KZN province. The track record speaks for itself. Just about every KZN school player that has gone on to make a name for himself as an established pro, has come through the Sharks programme.

It will be hard to substitute the vast experience gained over 17 years but hopeful Gavin Melvill’s replacement/s at the Sharks are up to the task of carrying on his good work that has been part of the foundation for success both on the rugby field and financially.

32 Comments

  1. In my humble opinion I have to disagree that this system worked. Yes, there were certainly some success stories, as there are in any union. The buying power and attraction of the Sharks brand played a huge role in landing some of the big names. My concern has always been how many players had to be drafted in when they were in the twilight of their careers to fill the many gaps in the Sharks recruitment policy. I honestly believe we have not won a Super rugby title because we always lacked in certain positions. The Academy structure allowed for a huge amount of players to be attracted to Durban, albeit that they had to pay, which was used to plug the gaps. A true recruitment and academy system should cater for 90% of your player needs with problem areas being the exception. To be forced into contracting so many players who had already played for other franchises showed there was a problem. This current squad has the makings of something special so hopefully this will be an example of the past successful recruitment or maybe it is because of all the changes at the Sharks? Not sure who will claim this potential success.

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  2. @All Black: And you are involved in running a rugby union for how long? The most difficult job in rugby is a talent scout. My hats of to the Sharks and the way they operate.
    What is Gavin going to do after this?

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  3. With all these changes at the Sharks and more specifically at the Academy, what happens to boys that had verbal agreements with the people who left ?
    Do they now look for alternative opportunities ?

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  4. Gavin did a great job for many years and was a good guy – sad that he is leaving.

    Who will be taking his place..?

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  5. Yep. Very good guy. I do believe it looks like an ex Shark will be involved somehow but that is just a rumour.

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  6. @RBugger: A real talent scout is difficult to find. Had the privilege to spent a few days with an old man many years ago. I asked him how do you identify a talented player. I listened and made notes. In 15 years to get 4 right & 1000 wrong proves my point

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  7. @valke: It’s a good point. There seems to have been very little succession planning at the Sharks so as supporters we are kind of hoping that the replacement staff can get up and running quickly.

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  8. @Tjoppa: I can imagine it must be a real task. The main thing when determining a players chances after school, is attitude.

    There are many, many a talneted player out there who could have become a pro rugby player, but got caught up in world of woman and jolling.

    It must be a mammoth task trying to control a teenager just out of school to concentrate on rugby and rugby alone – the itch to joll will be in all of them and it is a matter of will-power.

    Personally, in terms of the actual identification of talent, I do not feel this is the hardest task as it is often easy to see who has that something special about them, but to manage expectation and hormones, that is a different matter all-together

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  9. I think Xander Jv Rensburg must have opened an expensive bottle of champagne when he found out GM was leaving.

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  10. Funny he must have been at the 1996 Kearsney Festival then as PBHS were there and John was there too. I wonder if he was sitting next to me at any point…

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  11. @RBugger: I agree with you 100% on the attitude part. I spoke to Garth Giles the other day and altho he’s an old timer many of the fundamentals of success that applied in the days of amateur rugby still apply today in the pro game. He talked to me about relationship. Relationship isn’t just important for success on the field, its key to finding out if a player can be successful.

    The not the hardest task to see someone special part – I agree. I see special players every weekend. However the hard part is this – if you are a top rugby union, you are not just looking for someone special, you are after the most special player of the lot – the numero uno and these days you often have to look for him as an u16. In a few weeks time once the season is underway, a good few of us will start talking about who the best 1st XV players in the country are but very few of us will know who the best 1st XV players will be 2 years from now. We can take guesses but it’s the job of a true talent scout to know this as close to fact as you get.

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  12. @beet: Like Warren Whiteley, cast aside by the Sharks and now leading the Lions, now there is a guy with the right attitude. Maybe not the biggest, but has amazing ball skills and speed. In my opinion he is better than Kanko and offers something very different to big ball crashers that SA teams are so focused on….

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  13. @Beet: For sure, the identification at a young age is paramount nowadays.

    I tell, it must be an awesome job to have – if I had more money, I would do the talent scouting for free.

    Nothing better than watching SBR – what a great job having the task of finding the best of the best SBR talent in our country.

    @Grasshopper: Whiteley is coming on nicely now, this season he looks the part. I was never his biggest fan, as I found him a bit weak in contact. This year, he looks stronger and he is also looking heavier – he got the better of Vermeulen the other night, but having said that, the Stormers as a whole were terrible.

    Kanko still my number one at present, he also has the fortune of playing with Coetzee and Alberts – extremely physical players allowing him to roam and play his natural game.

    I am loving the Sharks thus far, playing with real passion and although I really do like Daniel, Kanko makes a difference

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  14. @RBugger: Agreed, Warren has picked up 5kg so weighing in around 105kg, not massive but has not lost his pace. He would do better in a better team but I like the Lions attitude…..led by Warren.

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  15. there was an article in this mornings Mercury about the many people that have left or been pushed out at the Sharks after many years of service…. time will tell if it was a good move or not

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  16. Does anyone look into the Investec Rugby Academy as its a hive of talent with top top notch intense coaching???.

    Investec New Zealand, under Murray Mexted take huge pride at what they are producing at the Academies – many young All Blacks!

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  17. @Dixon’s: True Dixon’s. I think many of us Sharks fans are hoping that it all pans out. John Smit got off to a great start with the CC win last year – bringing in new coaches and Brendan Venter to do it. This year every Sharks supporter is really pleased that Jake White is on board, be it only until the end of RWC 2015 maybe??? However the success being achieved now is largely due to the platform laid by those who ran the show before Smit. They were the ones who contracted and developed the players and kept the Sharks profitable in the process. Smit is off to a bright start but he could still end up as a fallen hero at Kings Park. The noose around SA pro rugby’s neck gets a little tighter every year. Keeping world class players happy when Europe and even Japan can put serious dough in their pockets is not getting any easier.

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  18. @geronimo: When you say look into the Investec Rugby Academy, in what way are you referring to – to send someone on a course or to contract a coach from there or …???

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  19. @beet: Beet….Greg Miller heads up the show and he, with all the coaches with solid Provincial/Springbok backgrounds etc see the talent. Are future prospects being identified here?, Did Gavin ever cruise into these academies?. Do scouts venture in this area?. Its a worthy u19 recruiting stop.

    Its a good hunting ground. Perhaps check them out and the slick business being run by Investec…….Fees are paid to partake but so worth it, I hear!!!

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  20. @beet GM is en was die beste talent scout wat enige provinsie nog gehad het of nog sal he. Sy strike rate om spelers te identifiseer en deur te vat tot Super Rugby is meer as 80%. Waarna hy gekyk het weet net hy want hy het nie altyd die beste S A Skole spelers gevat nie maar spelers wat hy dink wat coachable was en die talent gehad het, gevat en ontwikkel. Vra maar jou vriend Flippie

    GM we wil miss you. Rugby will miss you. ALL OF THE BEST IN FUTURE.
    PS—-I shall be in touch

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  21. @geronimo: Only those who can afford it go to these courses. If it was not a money making concern then you would get far more talent involved. I have no problem with people making money out of coaching etc as it is a very sought after ability. I just don’t think that one off courses are the future. Mexted’s academy is based along different lines to the Investec scenario. There are a few freebies that get offered now and again but basically this is an opportunity for those who can afford it.

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  22. @beet: unfortunately Rugby Unions have to be run like a business nowadays. And as is the case with the corporate environment, when a new boss comes along, get on board with his vision or get moving. it is sad that so many people that have worked for the Sharks for so long are no longer involved, but the argument can also be made that just because someone has been in a position for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean they are good at it!

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  23. @Dixon’s: True, but most of these were good at it. They may not have always been liked and many thought they knew how to do it better, but they were good at what they did. You could also add Reece and Bashie to the list.

    Possibly time for change – remember that almost all on the list were hired by BJ Van Zyl. Now JS hires his own in starting with John Smit, Butch James etc.

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  24. I have to agree with All Black. An example is the Kriel brothers formerly from PMB College now contracted to the Bulls. There are numerous other players that are plying their trade in other provinces / countries. Maybe a step in the right direction would be for each school to have one game at Kings Park as a curtain raiser, that way the scouts don’t have to travel to far and, it will also attract more “bums” on the seats at the stadium. Relationships between the Sharks and Schools need to be improved as schools lose revenue from not having a fixture at home, so some compromise would need to be agreed upon. Schools also need to be run as a business nowdays.

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