Springboks

Coetzee slipping on backing local first

2016-10-25 14:32
Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - When Allister Coetzee was unveiled as Springbok coach in April this year, he made it clear that he would always look to back local players over those based overseas. 

The plan, Coetzee said, was to send a message that if you wanted to play for the Springboks, you needed to play your rugby in South Africa. 

In an original 31-man squad for three Tests against Ireland, Coetzee named just three overseas-based players - Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Steven Kitshoff. 

Coetzee, from the very beginning, was given free rein from SA Rugby. He was to back local players, but he could ultimately select whoever he liked. 

Oregan Hoskins, SA Rugby president at the time, stressed that the policy on overseas-based players would have to be reviewed in the months ahead. 

Still, there were few who took issue with the selections of Louw and Vermeulen, who provided a dose of familiarity to what was a new-look Bok team. 

Now, four months since his first Test as coach, Coetzee has become far more relaxed in his initially strict approach to overseas-based selection. 

First it was Morne Steyn, then Bryan Habana, then Francois Hougaard, then Johan Goosen, then Willem Alberts as Coetzee called for help in his attempt to steady the Springbok ship. 

When a 33-man squad leaves on Friday for a northern hemisphere tour and Tests against England, Italy and Wales, they will do so with no less than eight overseas-based players. 

They are Kitshoff (Bordeaux), Alberts (Stade Francais), Jannie du Plessis (Montpellier), Goosen (Racing Metro), Habana (Toulon), Willie le Roux (Canon Eagles/Wasps), JP Pietersen (Leicester) and Vincent Koch (Saracens). 

It is hard to fault Coetzee for those selections - he is desperate for results right now - but they certainly do raise doubt over his earlier heart-felt warning to all of those who chose to abandon South African shores. 

Of course, Hoskins is no longer president of SA Rugby. So, does the organisation still intend to urgently re-evaluate its policy?

Mark Alexander is set to be unveiled as Hoskins' successor on October 27, and he did confirm at last week's coaching indaba that there were structure and policy issues that needed attention.

The official word from SA Rugby on Tuesday when asked by Sport24 was that, for now, the "status quo" remained and that Coetzee was able to select at will. 

The major problem with that is obvious. 

At the indaba, Coetzee was driving a South African coaching blueprint that would be implemented at Super Rugby level and below. 

South African coaches will be expected to provide their players with the necessary training to enhance certain skills that will ultimately fall in line with something resembling the 'South African way'. 

Expecting Super Rugby coaches to put the Boks first in their training methods is a big enough ask, but hoping that such a blueprint would miraculously find its way to the overseas-based Boks is absurd. 

At the moment, a quarter of the squad going on the end-of-year tour will not be Super Rugby players next year. 

So while Coetzee looks to embed whatever his desired philosophy is on the Super Rugby players, what happens to the blokes who are in France and England? It is problematic. 

The obvious solution is to only pick players who play their rugby in South Africa, but that is one heck of a big call, especially with the Boks on the ropes like they are currently.

Read more on:    springboks  |  allister coetzee  |  rugby
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