Cape Town - The trouble with striving too earnestly
to sing from the same song-sheet, sometimes, is that there isn’t room for any
Lots of positive, upbeat noises about
intentions, visions, common purposes and long-term objectives drifted into the
public realm from day one of the much-touted Springbok Indaba ... would you have
expected anything less?
But as the two-day venture draws to its
scheduled conclusion on Thursday, and SA coach Allister Coetzee begins the
tricky task of soaking in abundant advice and theory from a nationwide cast of
dozens and then pulling the stuff together for the pot, I suspect there will
ultimately be no escape for him from one cold fact: the Bok buck still stops
It has been brave, and generous, of him to
allow such a forum even as his first year in the post - when at least some reasonable
leeway must be granted for familiarisation - awaits completion yet.
The word “bizarre”, I admit, is also not terribly
far from my thinking on the exercise, whatever good it may bring.
Many considerably more ego-driven sports
coaches (and that is a characteristic that barely springs to mind with “Toetie”)
would not even countenance the idea, let alone so soon into their tenure.
Observers of more cynical mind could even
be tempted to charge that the Indaba, which he staunchly advocated, signals a
worrisome decline - already - in his self-confidence in the unforgiving
Coetzee overwhelmingly gave the impression
he knew what he was doing during his predominantly successful stint as Stormers
coach, making few excuses for a largely pragmatic approach that won him many
more matches than he lost … even if his team’s style meant he earned qualified
respect rather than rapturous appreciation for his methods.
Remember that three times he effectively
won the “real Currie Cup” of modern times by steering his charges to supremacy
when the South African Super Rugby teams were all housed in a single
Even when they slipped up, his sides were
not easily broken down.
That phenomenon has changed disturbingly
for the worse in his maiden year in charge of the Boks thus far, with mostly
nerve-jangling wins when they’ve been fortunate enough to present themselves
(just four times) and the five reverses including stingingly large ones to the
Led a provocative, frankly distracting
dance by the Lions’ seemingly futuristic displays in much of Super Rugby 2016,
this year’s Boks have all too stubbornly negotiated a dusty, potholed road to
nowhere in playing manner, gravely torpedoing time-honoured, core traditions
like physical mastery and staunch defence in an airy-fairy, currently rank indecisive
quest for a more fluid game.
Coetzee has allowed his convictions and
principles to stray into a dangerous vacuum; his Bok teams have been
ill-fitting jigsaws structurally, sometimes simply featuring wrong horses, full-stop,
or the incorrect ones for very particular courses.
The coach has ill-advisedly tried to be all
things to all people, hammering together a hybrid of Boeing and Airbus parts,
if you like, and hoping the darned concoction shudders off the ground.
Somehow, and I won’t have been alone, I
just knew the Boks were destined to have an evening of great Durban discomfort
against New Zealand recently when he kept faith, for instance, in the highly
attack-limited Morne Steyn at flyhalf - but then didn’t back the move up by
assembling the correct personnel for a conservative strategy around him.
He kept a cruiserweight “roamer” at No 8 in
the shape of Warren Whiteley, and fielded blindside flanks Oupa Mohoje and
Willem Alberts the wrong way around by starting with the athlete and bringing
on the bruiser pretty much after the cause was lost.
Outside of Steyn, too, Coetzee fielded a
back division collectively way too economical in both muscle and inches -
including a scrumhalf at wing - to be able to remotely boss All Black
counterparts in confrontation.
Watch the game again: you will quickly see
that the world champions didn’t just revel against the Boks because of their
acclaimed, silky hand-to-hand stuff … they also had a veritable field day in
physical domination across the park.
No amount of debate around the financial
limitations of central contracting in South Africa, or fitness levels among Bok
Test players increasingly drawn from far and wide on the planet - and yes, I
concede these are vexing, impeding
matters - disguises elementary, avoidable errors in team selection.
Whether the Indaba produces benefits, or no
benefits at all, ultimately the current fog the Springboks are floundering in
has to be cleared by Allister Coetzee, and no one else who had his name on a
table near a writing pad and water jug at a Newlands hotel this week.
It’s about the man in the mirror, not the
shifting shadows or raised hands, either helpful or confusing, behind him.
A much more than competent cricketer in his
own sporting heyday, Coetzee is capable of crisper stroke-play in his current
job without the need for broader intellectual input.
If the Boks go one from three, say, in
their fast-looming trio of European Tests, an already disenchanted SA rugby
public won’t be lauding lofty, down-the-line ideals from a Capetonian think-tank
held a few weeks earlier.
Believe me, their focus will be much, much
narrower than that.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing