London - Under-fire
South Africa coach Allister Coetzee insisted Monday he alone was not
responsible for a dreadful run of results as the battered Springboks
arrived in Cardiff for the final match of their European tour.
South Africa have lost seven of 11 Tests this year, equalling their
record for the most defeats in a season since returning to international
rugby in 1992 from apartheid-induced isolation.
These include a record 57-15 defeat by New Zealand, the team that for
much of rugby union's history they have challenged as the world's
leading nation in the 15-a-side code, and a first home loss to Ireland.
The Springboks hit a new low on Saturday as they suffered a maiden
defeat by Italy, going down 20-18 in Florence as the Azzurri got the
better of them for the first time in 13 attempts.
After that reverse, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander released a
statement saying the "whole of South African rugby is extremely
disappointed with this year's Springbok results and deeply worrying
aspects of the performances".
Alexander also promised to hold a post-season review which will take
place after this coming Saturday's Cardiff clash against a Wales side
under pressure following their last-gasp 33-30 win over Japan - the
team that beat the Springboks at last year's World Cup in arguably the
greatest upset in rugby history.
Despite that shock loss to the Japanese, South Africa recovered to
finish third at the World Cup after being edged out by eventual
champions New Zealand in a tense semi-final.
Following the tournament, coach Heyneke Meyer resigned and was
replaced by Coetzee, who has since presided over the ensuing slump.
"It's been a tough year and I can take responsibility for a lot of things," Coetzee told a Cardiff news conference on Monday.
"But I only got started in April and there are challenges in South African rugby that are unique to us.
"There's no excuse for the poor performance, but there are discussions happening and it is looking really positive.
"This is a great opportunity to address the problems and clean out the wounds. We need to diagnose and treat the symptoms of it.
"In the 21 years since our World Cup win in 1995 we've only had four
good years, and if we continue what we've been doing you're not going to
see any different result.
"There's a lot of dark clouds, but the silver lining is there I believe."
Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett said Sunday that the huge exodus
of players in the prime of their careers to wealthier overseas clubs had
also played its part in the woeful run of results.
Coetzee has also found himself
receiving sympathy from the rest of the rugby world for, unlike any
other leading coach, having to implement a "transformation policy in
selection designed to compensate for the all-white nature of South
Africa's apartheid-era teams.
But South African rugby journalist Mark Keohane, one of Coetzee's
staunchest critics, has pointed out that it was an all-white side that
the Springboks lost seven Tests in a row from 1964-65.
For all that Alexander warned against finding "scapegoats", Coetzee
accepted that "it's my responsibility to get the team out of that hole."
He added: "Saturday was dreadful and no-one can be happy with that
result. We are in a bit of a hole at the moment and the buck stops with
As for his own future, the 53-year-old former Stormers coach said: "Whatever happens, happens.
"But I've got a four-year deal and we want to end this tour on a good note."
Later Monday, the Springboks said Eben Etzebeth would miss the Test
against Wales after suffering a concussion during the defeat by England
at Twickenham two weeks ago.
The lock, who did not feature against Italy, will return home on Tuesday.
"We won't call up a replacement because we currently have sufficient
cover in that position with Pieter-Steph du Toit, Lood de Jager and
Franco Mostert," said Coetzee.
"There are also some utility forwards who
can provide extra cover if needed."