The All Blacks are the rugby union benchmark and if the Springboks have any aspirations of once again reaching the top echelons of world rugby, it’s impossible for coach Allister Coetzee to remain at the helm.
It’s a harsh statement, but one that needs to be made.
The Springbok coach was in defiant mode on Monday when he arrived back in South Africa after the team’s year-end European tour.
He was quick to point out that the Boks had won 50% of their matches on tour, having returned winless at the same stage last year.
The Boks finished the 2017 season with seven wins, four losses and two draws.
That translates to a 54% win-percentage and is no doubt better than the 33% (four out of 12) from the annus horribilis 2016 campaign.
Coetzee is right when he says “we’re better than last year”, but if the Boks want to measure themselves against a horror season - as was the case in 2016 - then they’re setting the bar extremely - and embarrassingly - low.
The two-time world champions should not be using the worst season in their history as a benchmark for improvement.
It's worth comparing the Boks' 2017 season to those countries who currently occupy the top spots in the World Rugby rankings - positions in which the Boks once found themselves.
World No 1-ranked New Zealand played 14 Tests - including a memorable three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions - and won 11 matches for a 79% win-percentage.
Eddie Jones led England to nine victories from 10 Tests in 2017 (90%) and landed the World Rugby Coach of the Year accolade for his efforts.
Ireland, vastly improved in recent times under Joe Schmidt, triumphed in nine of their 11 Tests this year for an 82% win-record.
Coetzee’s comments that he was “pleased” with the 2017 season because the Boks have made “massive progress” is a slap in the face of supporters and stakeholders.
It means Coetzee is satisfied with mediocrity and it has showed in the way the Boks have performed these last two years.
His record now stands at 11 wins from 25 - a meagre 44% win-record and well below his 65% mandate.
One can only imagine what would have transpired had an All Blacks coach ended a two-year stint with a sub-50% win-record.
No doubt that person would no longer be the coach!
It’s remarkable to think that since taking over as head coach of the All Blacks in 2012, Steve Hansen has lost only six of 82 Tests in charge.
Coetzee has lost double that in two years alone!
It was interesting to note former Springbok coach Jake White mention earlier this week that Coetzee alone should not take all the blame for the Springboks’ woes.
White said the powers that be who appointed Coetzee should also be held accountable.
“How can Allister Coetzee take all the blame? He was appointed by people who said he was good enough to do the job and now that the results haven’t gone our way, only he is being held responsible,” White wrote via a column for the All Out Rugby website on Tuesday. “It’s not like everything was going well and then Allister was appointed and we suddenly fell over. This has been coming for a long time,” White continued.
It’s true that problems within SA rugby structures started before Coetzee’s tenure, but - as I’ve mentioned in a previous column - Coetzee had all the credentials when he was named Springbok coach.
The merits of his appointment could not be questioned and I don’t think any South African rugby fan in his wildest dreams would have foreseen things becoming so bad when Coetzee was named national coach.
The Boks, with Heyneke Meyer as coach, copped criticism for their style of play, but were third in the world rankings when he stepped down after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Now the Boks find themselves sixth in the rankings and it’s fair to say that under Coetzee they did 'fall over' - as record and historic losses to New Zealand, Italy and Ireland suggest.
The 'late' appointment (Coetzee was named Bok coach in April 2016) was one of the reasons given as an excuse for the failings of 2016.
However, in 2017, Coetzee’s had more time, new assistants, planning and training camps and if he wants to shift some of the blame, then his co-lieutenants - more so than SA Rugby’s top brass - should be held accountable.
Was it Coetzee’s decision to play Warrick Gelant out of position on the wing against Wales? Or did attack and skills coach Franco Smith have a say?
Did defence and exits specialist Brendan Venter have the final say on how Andries Coetzee opts to kick tactically?
Coetzee did not coach the team on his own, but unfortunately he is the man who will have to face the music when his performance is reviewed over the next few weeks.
Coetzee may not alone be at fault for the Boks’ current woes, but it will be tough for him to argue that a 44% win-record is enough to remain the head honcho, especially when compared to his three immediate predecessors in the Bok hot seat - Meyer (71%), Peter de Villiers (68%) and White (68%) fared significantly better in their first two seasons at the helm.
Furthermore, Coetzee's seven victories in 2017 came against arguably the weakest France side in recent memory, now ranked ninth in the world (4); Argentina, who have hit rock bottom in recent times having won only eight of their 27 Tests since the last World Cup (2); and Italy, ranked 14th in the world (1).
The Boks have been better than in 2016, but what barometer was used when declaring 2017 as 'satisfying'... ?
Herman Mostert works at Sport24, is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...
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