CAPE TOWN – He carried the rare distinction of drawing his first and last Tests in charge of the Springboks.

Nothing else about Ian McIntosh’s coaching career drew such ambiguity.

McIntosh, one of Zimbabwe’s and this country’s most prominent and respected coaching voices, fell silent on Wednesday. He had lost his long battle with cancer aged 84.

His teachings, however, will long echo.

He was a coaching high priest and pioneer who helped shape the game on the field domestically and seamlessly bridged the amateur and professional coaching eras. He coached the Boks between 1993 and 1994 and was the driving force behind Natal’s transformation from B-section contenders to Currie Cup winners.

He is the only Springbok coach who also coached the national Sevens team.

A book chronicling part of his coaching career was aptly titled Mac: The Face of Rugby.

It was his infectious, engaging manner that held those who lent their ears captivated. At post-match functions an animated McIntosh would hold court, breaking the game down to its component parts.

“He was larger than life,” said Dick Muir, who played a large chunk of his provincial career under Zimbabwean-born McIntosh.

“He was always there to assist and give advice. He was a proper rugby man, in every way.

“He lived the game — as a player, then young coach, older coach and selector. He was a mentor for me when I became a coach.”

Apart from possessing an astute rugby brain, McIntosh also knew people.

“He also had a personal touch,” recalled Muir. “He had a way of getting the best out of everybody. He always praised publicly and dealt with you privately. He had players’ backs.

“He was a straight shooter. He dropped you when he needed to drop you. When he was not happy with a ref that made a mistake, he [the official] was sure to find out. But he could take criticism as well.”

Muir said McIntosh was ahead of his time and a student of the game. “He stumbled upon something and developed some pioneering thinking about getting over the gainline,” said Muir about the McIntosh playbook that often involved a hulking inside centre heading into the heavy traffic at great force.

“He was obsessed by it but he was always evolving. Those days coaches didn’t have assistants, so he had to be multi-skilled.”

Muir said McIntosh’s relationship with former Brumbies and Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen helped him develop theories about the game.

“He was always looking for an edge. He brought in Kevin Stephenson who was a conditioning coach from football. In the early days he recruited a few players like Rudi Visagie, Tom Lawton and Andre Joubert. Back then it was not for money, so the coach had to be convincing.

“Through it all he encouraged the fun aspect of the game and developed good team spirit and made it a family.”

McIntosh was so devoted to the game he would often quip that though he had been married for 40-plus years he had been away so much it felt like four.

The time he put in didn’t go unrewarded. His defining moment perhaps came when Natal, in their centenary year, won the Currie Cup for the first time by beating the highly fancied Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in 1990.

Not long before, they were still languishing in the B-section of the Currie Cup, playing in outposts like the three wanderlust Ws: Welkom, Windhoek and Wellington. So excited was Mac after their maiden win in Windhoek that he lit a match programme in the airport terminal that caught the attention of smoke detectors, then sprinklers.

After their maiden success, three more Currie Cup wins followed in 1992, 1995, 1996 — but in his swansong season the Sharks lost the final at home to the Lions in 1999.

Mac’s record as Bok coach was unflattering but he was the first post-isolation coach to take the team in search of the Holy Grail — a series win in New Zealand. The Boks fell short and that was to be the last long tour they undertook to that country outside the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The Boks won four of their 12 Tests under McIntosh, lost six and drew two, the first in Durban against France in 1993 and the other in his final Test in Auckland the next year.

“It was a pity he wasn’t given more time with the Boks,” sighed Muir. “With all respect to Kitch [Christie], I think Mac laid a wonderful foundation for the World Cup-winning Boks of 1995.”

Mac coached “greats”, Muir reminded’, so his legacy should thus not be measured in silverware.

McIntosh remained involved in coaching but he also served as national selector for 13 years, and was a mentor to Bok coaches.

His involvement with the SA Legends didn’t just help grow his gospel. “His involvement there just exposed so many more people to what he has to offer as a coach. Bringing his understanding of the game to a wider audience and that has certainly rippled through SA in more than a rugby sense. He was so selfless,” Muir said.

In 2013 McIntosh was presented World Rugby’s Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service, recognising his achievement in changing the face of rugby in South Africa.

South African Rugby Union president Mark Alexander said: “Mac left an indelible mark on the global rugby landscape, but even more so in South Africa and with his beloved Sharks.”

McIntosh is survived by his wife Rhona and three sons.

Source: TimesLive


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