Lloyd Burnard

Give Coetzee another year, but then ...

2016-11-14 12:34
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - Six losses out of 10 ... it has been a horrible year for Allister Coetzee after taking on the 'poisoned chalice'. 

He was the first ever Bok coach to lose at home to Ireland, the first to lose away to Argentina, he oversaw the Springboks' biggest ever loss to the All Blacks and biggest ever loss at home and then on Saturday he became the first Bok coach to lose to England in 13 Test matches. 

The four wins include two home triumphs over Ireland, a close-call against Argentina in Nelspruit and a Morne Steyn-inspired kick-fest against the Wallabies at Loftus. 

Now, there are serious questions over whether or not Coetzee should guide the Boks to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The sensible approach, for me, would be to give Coetzee 2017 to show that he is on the right track. 

There is no question that, when he was appointed, Coetzee was the man for the job. 

There have been some short-sighted, ignorant and frankly bigoted views that Coetzee was only appointed as coach of the national side because of the colour of his skin.

That, simply, is absolute rubbish and those who have delivered such irresponsible commentaries should be taken to task. 

When the decision was taken not to renew Heyneke Meyer's contract after the 2015 World Cup, Coetzee was immediately the favourite for the job. 

And it wasn't because he is not white. It was because, for the past five years of Super Rugby, he had been the country's most successful coach. 

The Stormers under Coetzee won three out of five South African conferences, he was more experienced than all of his SA franchise peers, he had worked in the national set-up before and he had an outstanding transformation track record at the Stormers. 

He was the right man for the job, based on nothing but merit ... let's be very clear on that. 

But all has not gone according to plan.

While there are more doubts than ever, it is too early to be calling for the coach's head. He needs to be given longer than 8 months.

Still, that should not give him the guarantee of being in the job until 2019 and SA Rugby need to prepare themselves for the possibility of making a tough decision this time, next year.

The problem, and this is most concerning, is that there still seems to be no clear plan under Coetzee and there has certainly not been any visible progress. 

Had Coetzee asked for patience from the beginning and outlined his plan for this Springbok team, then the rugby public may have been more accepting of these results. 

But it is hard to measure progress when there is no clear plan in place, and if there is a clear plan then that message has still not found its way from Bok management to the public. 

Regardless of what happens in the next two games against Italy and Wales, it has been a horrible year for South African rugby. 

Coetzee has big hopes for the Boks that SA Rugby are backing fully. He wants to integrate a coaching style across the board that is implemented at Super Rugby level and below. 

But, before any of that can happen, Coetzee needs to identify a desired Bok style first. 

Right now, it looks like half of the players think they are supposed to be playing ball-in-hand rugby while the other half look to be favouring a more traditional approach. 

And if a balance between the two is what Coetzee is after, then he needs everyone on the same page and there still needs to be a defensive structure and attacking shape. That, so far, has not happened. 

It is not quite crisis point yet, but if the Boks had to go to a World Cup in their current state they wouldn't come close to challenging. 

And that is the big question: How long does Coetzee have to show that he is on the right track towards delivering a competitive team at Japan 2019? 

Coaches work in four year cycles these days, but they need to be building towards the end goal of the World Cup. 

The Boks, if anything, have moved backwards under Coetzee. 

While they lost against Ireland in Cape Town, that first Bok squad managed to win in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth to clinch the series and they scored some entertaining tries along the way. 

At the moment, the Boks are difficult to watch at all.

Heyneke Meyer, Peter de Villiers and Jake White - the last three Bok coaches - all lasted four years. Before then, no Bok coach was given a full four-year cycle to prepare for a World Cup. 

The idea is that teams are more likely to excel at a World Cup if they have been together with the same coach for the entire build-up, and the success or failure of a coach's tenure should ultimately be judged on that World Cup performance. 

But if the Boks limp through 2017 the way they have done this year, then at what point does SA Rugby pull the plug? And, more importantly, would the new leadership at SA Rugby ever take that decision?

President Mark Alexander was, rightly so, vocal at the two-day coaching Indaba in Cape Town last month in giving Coetzee his full backing. 

But what happens if the Boks don't improve next year? 

Would Alexander be prepared to pull the plug? Would he be ready for the inevitable political outcry that would accompany a coach of colour being sacked?

Remember, winning Test matches is not Coetzee's only mandate. He is under instruction to ensure that, by 2019, half of the Springbok squad is made up of players of colour. 

Against England on Saturday, there were just three players of colour on the field and three on the bench. 

Coetzee is failing in that regard too.

Another year gives Coetzee another Rugby Championship, another end-of-year tour and another Inbound series (presumably against weaker opposition given that there is a British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017) to turn things around. 

If he doesn't, and if the Boks continue to be this poor, then something drastic may need to be done. 

Let's hope it doesn't get to that ...

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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