Johannesburg - Allister Coetzee was named Springbok coach on Tuesday and
tasked with changing the racial mix of the team and rediscovering a
Twice world champions, the Springboks lost to New Zealand in the
Rugby World Cup semi-finals last year and five defeats in 11 Tests included
stunning beatings from Argentina and Japan.
South Africa often fielded starting teams containing 12 white
players, much to the anger of the government and sections of the public
who want a team more reflective of the population.
Nine percent of South Africans are white, yet they have dominated
national rugby teams since the post-apartheid readmittance to the Test
A national rugby union and government agreement targets half the South African 2019 Rugby World Cup team in Japan being black.
Coetzee is the second black Springboks coach, following in the
footsteps of Peter de Villiers, who was in charge between 2008 and 2011.
"When a player is selected he must understand where he fits into the
team, regardless of colour," the new coach told reporters after his
appointment was confirmed at a Johannesburg TV studio.
"When we select a player we look with one pair of glasses. I need to back every player that we select, it is not about race.
"We must be smarter in the way we use our physicality and put a lot
of emphasis on decision makers, especially nine (scrumhalf) and 10
The enormity of the task facing the 52-year-old former scrumhalf was
evident last weekend when only 20 of 75 South African starters in Super
Rugby were black.
Further narrowing the options for Coetzee was the fact that 70
percent of those players operate in just three positions: eight were
wingers, three were loosehead props and three were centres.
Robbed by apartheid of a chance to play for South Africa, Coetzee
chose teams during six years in charge of the Cape Town-based Western
Stormers that were close to 50 percent black.
His legacy lives on with the Stormers fielding six black starters
last weekend, Kings five and Sharks, Lions and Bulls three each. The Cheetahs had a bye.
Coetzee left Stormers last year to join Japanese club Kobelco Steelers.
Being chosen for one of the toughest jobs in world rugby in
succession to Heyneke Meyer fulfils a life-long ambition for the man
born in Eastern Cape university town Grahamstown.
He was an assistant to Jake White when South Africa won the Rugby
World Cup in France nine years ago, then lost out to De Villiers for the
South Africa begin a Test season in June with three home internationals against Ireland.
The Springboks then meet Argentina, Australia and New Zealand home and away in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.
An end-of-season tour starts against the Barbarians in London
followed by Tests against England, Wales and to-be-named opponents.
Coetzee developed a love of rugby from his father and brother and was a fearless scrumhalf, fond of blind-side breaks.
But he never achieved the ultimate goal of every South African rugby
player - to represent the Springboks - because blacks were barred
under a racially segregated sport system.
As apartheid collapsed in the early 1990s and rugby bodies united,
Coetzee played for and coached his native Eastern Province and also had
roles at the Cats (now Lions) and Sharks.
His big break came in 2008 when named Western Province Currie Cup
coach and two years later was also put in charge of sister team, the
Stormers, as well.
Under Coetzee, Stormers became the leading South African side in
Super Rugby, but could not break the trophy-winning stranglehold of
Australian and New Zealand outfits.
While widely praised for developing black talent, Coetzee faced constant criticism for overly defensive tactics.
"Coetzee is the right man for the Bok job. He has the thick skin, the
technical knowledge and desire to make a difference," wrote John
Goliath of the Independent Newspapers group.
Colleague Mike Greenaway was not convinced, though: "Stormers were
unable to take the step up and mix it in the Super Rugby play-offs.
"So what will change when Coetzee takes over the Boks?"