ANTON Leonard’s priority, following his return to Loftus Versfeld, is to bring bite back into the Bulls’ forwards pack.
During his playing days as captain and loose-forward of the Pretoria side before he hung up his boots in 2008, Leonard led the Bulls with grit and valour.
He has now returned to Loftus to join a rookie coaching staff – with Nollis Marais at the helm – as the forwards coach.
Now 41, the former Bulls captain has not been overly impressed with the side’s form over the past few seasons, and his intention is to add some teeth to the forwards.
“For as long as I can remember, the Bulls’ pack of forwards have been dominant. I want to bring that back,” he said.
“I think we lost that dominance a little bit over the past three to four years.
“I also think the mauling is not up to the standard it should be at this stage.
“We have a lot of young guys, so it’s a big challenge and responsibility for us to equip them with the right tools and make the right calls.”
Leonard’s core duty as the forwards coach is to take charge of the lineout from the departed Victor Matfield, who played the role of player-coach over the past two seasons.
Former teammate Gary Botha will oversee the scrum coaching.
Leonard remains confident that there is enough talent at Loftus to fill the void left by the veteran Matfield at lock.
“We have a lot of talent. I look at our locks who are still so young. Our challenge will be to make the right calls, teach them to see and create space in the lineouts.
“With Victor having left, there is a big void left behind when it comes to the lineout. But I’m quite confident the next star lock in South African rugby will come out of the Bulls. The question is who will want to put their hand up and take that spot.”
The battle for the lock positions will be between Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Grant Hattingh, Jason Jenkins, Nico Janse van Rensburg and Abongile Nonkontwana.
Leonard said he did not have to think twice about taking up the coaching job after Marais ran the idea past him three months ago.
“Coaching has always been a passion of mine,” he said.
“It definitely is a new era at the Bulls. There are a lot of young players coming through. We have Nollis, who is a great coach, and the whole management team – from under-19 to the senior teams – are a great bunch of guys.
“I think we have a lot to learn from each other.”
Leonard has spent the past five years at the South Western Districts (SWD) Eagles. He believes it was the perfect stepping stone to build a solid foundation for his coaching future.
“I think it’s always best to start coaching at a small union before venturing to a big union like the Bulls,” he said.
“At the small unions you cut the grass, do the scrumming, lineouts, defence, turnovers, you take charge of the backline – you become a jack of all trades and master of none.
“It’s such a privilege and exciting that now I will concentrate on one aspect: being responsible for lineouts and the forwards’ play.
“It’s a new challenge.”