(This has been sent to all club chairpersons in Sweden)
The Swedish Rugby Union Chairman´s Conference will be held next weekend and a total of 30” is to be devoted to Swedish National Teams. I would suggest that considerably more time be devoted to the subject. The situation is acute after the results last Saturday when the Men lost to and the Ladies just beat two very low ranked Nations.
I am especially concerned about the Men´s team where a series of poor performances has culminated in a clear defeat at home to a team ranked 61st in the world. We have been close a number of times but this I think is the lowest ranked defeat ever (although lowly Denmark beat us last year in some sort of training match). Conversely, it is many years since Sweden beat any team ranked better than 50th (Moldova may have been slightly higher last year, but have since collapsed to 57th). In short, we seem to be stable just above the emerging countries but well below the stronger teams in Europe with whom we used to be on a par.
The coach and selector for the past five or six years has been Kanogo Njuru, chairman of Hammarby. Sweden has played over 25 games during that period and has only beaten a few lowly ranked countries, as mentioned above. I would suggest a change is long overdue.
Let me first say that I have nothing against Kanogo personally. I have criticized his work over an extended period, yet he has remained courteous and friendly despite our differing opinions. For younger readers I can say that he was an outstanding player for Exiles and Hammarby, one of only two male Swedish players to be selected for the Barbarians and perhaps one of the best half dozen players the country has ever seen. But when it comes to leading the Swedish XV his record is unfortunately much less impressive.
The SRF is not nearly as transparent as it should be, although there has been some improvement since the dark days of Madeleine Lahti´s chairmanship. This makes it difficult to determine the extent of Kanogo´s responsibilities for the money made available to him for preparing each international. I accept that he may have had little say in these resource issues, although he has often been heavily criticized for inadequate preparations. This is indeed one of the sources of conflicts with players, who have refused to pay for training camps or indeed games and thus being excluded. If in fact he has not been given adequate resources it would perhaps have been better for him to resign, stating the reasons, rather than being repeatedly abused for poor on-field performances.
I am prepared to leave a question mark over the finances, but there are other areas where Kanogo must take a personal responsibility. I feel a coach/selector should be in regular contact with the club coaches, visit training sessions and speak to individual players. When I have spoken to Kanogo he has maintained that he does have contact with coaches and players but that it would be unreasonable to expect him, with a young family, to be out regularly to training sessions and clubs around the country. He may have a point with respect to club visits but his idea of how much contact he has with players and coaches is quite simply not confirmed by the people involved. The two dominating clubs in recent years maintain that they have more or less no contact with Kanogo and this may be confirmed by the small number of players in the Swedish team from these clubs. Perhaps most telling is the fact that Kanogo is more or less never seen at important league and play-off matches. A hint of how much he is in touch is that of the six Exiles players selected this season, three do not play regularly for the first team. And that one of the Pingvin players who has played poorly and has lasted about 55” in each international had not played a game for 8 weeks before.
Another major issue has been selection. Kanogo has repeatedly selected up to seven players from abroad, almost all of whom play at a very low level and who, superficially, add little to the strength of the team. The only time we see them is when they are playing (and mainly losing) in a Swedish jersey. If they add something to the Swedish team let´s see them in trial games in Sweden against the best that home players can offer. I have nothing against Swedish players brought in from abroad, but their ability is the issue. I might point out that we have had two players from England with Swedish qualifications, Andy Daish and Anders Nilsson. Both have played at the third, semi-professional, level and have in their time been obvious assets to Sweden. But I doubt if we need to rummage around for Swedish connections at the 7th English level.
Selection within Sweden has also been questionable. Exiles have won the Championship for the last eight years and Pingvin have been close runners up for the last five. Yet often their players are passed over for those in lower leagues not much above beginners´ level, who have never ever played a physically demanding match. Meeting the big forwards from Eastern Europe has often been a chastening experience. In one or two games we´ve seen them conceding four pushover tries within 20”.
A further issue is physical fitness. Every Swedish team in the last couple of years has had at least one, often more, players who are seriously overweight. This is giving the wrong signal to the opposition, to other team members, to those aspiring to international honours and nowadays via Rugby Europe to a larger audience where the message is that Sweden is no longer fielding serious competitive teams, This seems to me to be further evidence of lack of contact with players and club coaches.
Most of what I have written so far is simply stating the facts. But there are other question marks as well. It has been stated repeatedly that many players from the senior clubs refuse to play for Sweden with Kanogo in charge. I don´t know how widespread this is although I know at least one established Exiles international who has refused to play after being asked to pay for training and matches. There are some others who have been doubtful for other reasons. One is the fairly chaotic organization of the internationals. This is to some extent the fault of a steady stream of managers who have little competence when it comes to the tricky business of getting a squad together in some remote part of Europe. Often we have less than 23 players who turn up and there are last minute changes which make any kind of tactical planning impossible. We saw this last week when the official team sheet differed from that which took the field and it was obvious that the backs were completely disorganized.
A final issue, a much more subjective one, is the quality of Kanogo´s coaching. A number of players I have spoken to, who are doubtful about playing for Sweden, have felt that it is simply not good enough, perhaps partly due to the lack of preparation time. I do not know what goes on in these preparations, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In the game against Luxemburg there was certainly little to suggest that any preparations of any sort had taken place.
May I, in conclusion, state that I do not criticize a single player who has turned out for Sweden in recent years. A few may have had doubts about whether or not they were really at that level but it is an honour to play for your country, six of my family have done so, and I respect every one who has responded to the nation´s call.
Summing up, time for a change, with perhaps a financial incentive offered to the new coach. In this amateur sport our lives are mainly spent outside rugby and the time required for this undertaking justifies some form of compensation.