Springboks

Best Allister ally has to be himself

2016-10-20 15:10
Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The trouble with striving too earnestly to sing from the same song-sheet, sometimes, is that there isn’t room for any other music.

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 with him.

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 national post.

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 conference.

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 All Blacks.

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.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  allister coetzee  |  rugby
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