With the Ireland series not too far off, Allister
Coetzee’s unveiling as the new Springbok coach was met, unsurprisingly, with
mixed reactions from the public and rugby fraternity at large.
It was probably
the worst kept secret in rugby circles as most fans already knew exactly who
will be named as the Bok head-honcho, weeks before Coetzee’s appointment.
opinion it is eight years too late as he should have naturally succeeded Jake White
when he was assistant to him from 2004–2007.
As is customary, he will take
charge over the next four year cycle leading up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Coetzee is only the second non-white coach after Peter de Villiers. Taking on
the role of Springbok top dog brings with it very unique and uphill challenges
and is not for the feint-hearted.
Coetzee will have his work cut out and will
have to please both the demanding rugby public as well as the boardroom
the face of it Coetzee’s task seems simple and straight-forward to the average
rugby fan: get back to winning ways and transform the team.
Easy enough right?
His challenges run much deeper and perfecting this extremely delicate
balancing act requires an individual who can absorb pressure, both on and off
the field, doesn’t get ruffled easily and has a thick skin to boot.
can our sports crazy, rugby loving citizens expect and look forward to over the
next four years?
A teacher by trade, Coetzee is a very
experienced tactician at the highest level. He has most definitely earned a
shot at the job.
As a decent player in his youth and even a junior Springbok in
the early 1990s, he turned out to be a very astute assistant coach at the
Sharks and then the Springboks under Harry Viljoen as well as White when we won
the 2007 World Cup.
He then went on to coach Western Province to two Currie Cup
titles and turned them into consistent Super Rugby performers.
He was recently
head coach of Japan’s Kobe Steelers and is a well-respected leader throughout
the rugby world.
He is also a likeable guy in the media and forms good
relationships with his players and is not a dictator or disciplinarian.
skills are impeccable.
The one aspect that rugby pundits always
brought to attention regarding Coetzee was his conservative, defensive mind-set
and playing style. This was what in all likelihood prevented him from leading
the Stormers to the Super Rugby title. Even Coetzee’s predecessor Heyneke Meyer
at least won a Super Rugby title.
However, Meyer was derided in the media for the
exact same ‘10 man’ game plan approach and this will not be tolerated this
If we stand any chance of catching the All Blacks we need to employ a
much more expansive, running style of rugby.
Coetzee has promised a ‘bold’
playing style and I indeed hope this does bare fruition.
A corollary to the above negatives is the
all-important transformation issue. How does a coach focus on winning
strategies, tactics and techniques without the added distraction of having to
racially balance the team? It is a thankless task as this type of scenario
always causes some sort of divide amongst both public and players and you are
never going to please everyone all at once.
The one aspect in Coetzee’s favour
is that his Province and Stormers teams were consistently well represented with
non-white players, teams who also produced great results.
My biggest fear is
that if SARU enforce their quota requirements then certain world-beating,
high-class white performers are going to be left out to the detriment of the
To add to the negatives above, Coetzee’s
support staff does not warrant the level of confidence that Springbok
assistants indeed should.
Backline coach Mzwandile Stick seems to be getting the
brunt of the criticism as many believe, including myself, that there are much
better candidates for the job. He was a good player but his coaching abilities
are still fairly unproven at the highest level. How are we going to cut through
the All Black and Wallabies defensive systems without proper backline tutelage?
Forwards coach Johann van Graan has not really covered his name in glory under
Meyer and should have also been replaced.
My personal dream team would have
been Nick Mallett as head coach with John Mitchell and Rassie Erasmus as his
side-kicks, Jacques Nienaber as defence guru, Percy Montgomery as kicking coach
and Os du Randt in charge of the scrums.
Yes the negatives do seem to out-weigh the positives
with this new appointment but it will be unfair to lambast and judge the new
coaching staff just yet.
I encourage the public to wait until the end of the
year, after the Ireland series, Rugby Championship and European tour and then
have their fair say.
De Villiers was vilified even before he walked out
of his very first press conference, but ended up being the coach with the best
record against the All Blacks with four wins.
In terms of on-field performance,
Coetzee will ultimately be judged by his record against the world champions and
the 2019 World Cup, where anything less than a win will be viewed as a massive
failure and rightly so.
For now I advise Coetzee to crack open the
bubbly and celebrate. Being named Bok coach is no mean feat and we all would
kill for such a post. He will also need to reserve all his energy for the
monumental task that lies ahead and even offer a prayer or two as he will need
divine intervention as well.
Good luck Allister, I sincerely hope you prove everyone
wrong, including myself. The proof will be in the pudding and the only thing
that will ultimately matter will be the on-field results.
Oh, and please don’t
forget to make Duane Vermeulen our captain. We will all have our say but for
now, let us give the benefit of the doubt to our new coach as it is indeed ... too early to judge.
Dhirshan Gobind is a 30-something freelance sports
columnist/writer/blogger and a UKZN alumnus with a degree in Marketing
Management. He also has a column in ‘The Post’.
Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse
views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their
own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.