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.