As the Super Rugby season draws to a close it is perhaps an
opportune time to recognise the significant contribution Allister Coetzee has made - and is still making - to South African rugby, with special reference to his
tenure as Western Province and Stormers coach.
Coaches don’t often get the credit they deserve and I believe
that Allister, given his significant achievements, is a case in point.
Furthermore, since the Stormers (the Super Rugby side he
coached for six years) has qualified for yet another Super Rugby playoff spot it
is indeed fitting to highlight his particular contribution to Western Province
During his term as head coach of the Stormers he embraced the
opportunity to take on the twin challenge of ‘transforming and winning’ in a
province and society (Western Cape) where rugby is embedded in the daily lives
of people. By daring to take the
coaching position at WP, Allister showed that he had the required knowledge,
temperament and fortitudes to make it a successful project.
True to his character, always humble and a dedicated hard
worker, Allister toiled his way through the system earning respect from his
peers since his playing days and similarly after retirement, when he turned to
coaching as a career.
During this time he
coached the EPRU Elephants, Emerging Springboks, SA Under-23, Sharks and Stormers
as assistant coach and then, his big break as Jake White’s right hand man in
He grabbed the opportunity with
both hands and never looked back.
interviewing Allister on a few occasions during that period and recalls the many
fascinating stories he told me about Os du Randt’s comeback and how he and Jake
White utilised Os’ status and experience to rebuild pride in the Springbok
He also relayed to me the many
hours they (the Springbok management team) spend working with the players to
grow and build relations with and among the core members of the Springbok squad
in order to forge unity and a sense of purpose.
Having been a world class player himself (he represented the
SARU- (pre-unity) National team), he has an acute understanding of what makes
rugby players tick, what inspires them and what turns them off. In that sense he was a very important cog in
the “success wheel” of the 2007 Springbok world champions.
However, it was only later on at WP and the Stormers that he
came into his own and where he, in my opinion, made the biggest impact.
More mature and with a wealth of experience
at the highest level of the game he set about his task, unperturbed by the
almost fanatical Cape Town rugby crowd.
It wasn’t all good, but he managed the difficult times with a distinctive
professional demeanor that won him respect across the diverse communities of
the Western Cape.
When it was time to
leave he did so with his head held high.
More recently, the almost seamless transition
from the ‘Allister era’ to the ‘Eddie Jones moment’ and then to the temporary
appointment of Robbie Fleck (his former assistant coach); is yet another compliment
to the firm foundation he laid during his six years in charge at Newlands.
Coetzee followed a strategic approach with player recruitment,
bringing young talented players into the WP and Stormers squads early on and then
signing top players for positions where the available talent was thinly spread.
When Bongi Mbonambi was unwanted at the Bulls
Allister seized the opportunity to sign the bruising hooker for WP and the Stormers.
Coetzee was especially excited about young players
like Siya Kolisi, Scarra Ntubeni, Kobus van Wyk, Cheslin Kolbe, Damien de
Allende, Nizaam Carr, Nic Groom and others with whom he forged a special bond.
This was evident throughout is time in the Cape. For all the confidence and belief that he showed
in these players, they paid him back double on the field, week after week. Players will play for their coaches if they
know that the coach beliefs in and depends on them.
Millin Petersen, the famous SARU coach firmly
believed in this and it was one of his strongest attributes as a coach: the
ability to motivate and inspire his charges to go above and beyond. Having played under Petersen, I am
sure Allister gleaned that from the great coach and it is helping him on his
way to become even greater.
During his stint at WP Allister coached
the team to five out of a potential six Currie Cup finals, winning two of them. An
unbelievable achievement. He also won
the South African Conference of Super Rugby in four out of six Super Rugby competitions when he coached the Stormers, another unequaled feat for a South
African coach. In 2010 and 2011 the Stormers finished second on the overall log
and finished top of the overall log in 2012. In 2015, Allister’s last season as Stormers coach, he finished third on
the overall log. The consistency with
which he achieved must rank among the best in the business.
On Saturday the extensive harvest of his six years investment
in WP rugby will run onto the field to wrestle a playoff win from the Chiefs,
a feat that has sadly escaped the home side on a few occasions in the past. I will be cheering loud for the Stormers, the
Lions and the Sharks, but a little extra louder for the Stormers because of the
When De Allende or Leolin Zas break the line on
Saturday I will see the hand of Allister in it; I will see reflected on the
field the legacy of South African rugby, black and white, SARU (pre-unity) and
SARU (unified) and yes, Millin Petersen and Harry Abrahams and all the great coaches
that came before them.
But most of all,
I will see Allister Coetzee, our Springbok coach who came full circle to tie
all these threads together for us.
Thank you Toetie.
Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player (1984-1986)
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