Herman Mostert

Where did it all go wrong for Toetie?

2016-11-23 11:25
Herman Mostert

Driving to a South African Rugby Union media briefing in Plattekloof in December last year, I already knew that Allister Coetzee would be the Springbok coach in 2016.

Then-president Oregan Hoskins was to address reporters after Heyneke Meyer had indicated he would not re-apply for his position as national coach.

At the meeting, Hoskins played down reports that Coetzee would become the next coach, insisting it would be a “robust, transparent process”.

But Hoskins had no-one fooled.

SA Rugby head-hunted Coetzee, who was coaching in Japan at the time, and didn't seriously consider other applicants for the job.

At that same meeting Hoskins made it clear that transformation would be “on top of the new coach’s agenda" as the aim was to have a Springbok team made up of 50% black players in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

I remember a fellow pundit noting: “Allister Coetzee will be the next Springbok coach. They have to pick a coach of colour.”

Fair enough, picking a coach of colour would surely have appeased the sports ministry.

Therefore, Coetzee’s appointment came as no surprise and wasn't met with much criticism.

And rightfully so.

No one could argue the merits of Coetzee’s selection. He had the credentials having started his coaching tenure at Eastern Province as an assistant coach in 1996.

In subsequent years, Coetzee coached teams like the Emerging Springboks and the SA Under-23s, had assistant roles at the Sharks and Cats, went back to EP as head coach, before being roped in as Jake White’s assistant at the Springboks - a tenure which ended in a World Cup triumph in 2007.

Coetzee then assisted Rassie Erasmus at the Stormers for two seasons before taking the head coaching responsibilities, with Erasmus moving behind the scenes in a more directorial role.

He achieved success at Western Province and the Stormers, winning the Currie Cup twice and turning the Stormers into the best South African outfit in Super Rugby.

Although he built a reputation of losing knock-out games, his credentials remained better than his peers on the local scene.

Coetzee’s selection as Bok coach should have been a success story for transformation. Here was a coach of colour who was picked on merit. He was going to turn the already ailing team’s fortunes around.

But what transpired has turned into a horror script Stephen King would be proud of.

Under Coetzee’s tutelage in 2016, the Boks have lost seven of 11 Tests.

It included a first ever loss to Ireland on home soil, losing away to Argentina, getting pummelled by a record 57-15 scoreline at home against the All Blacks, as well as last weekend's fiasco in Florence, which saw a first ever loss to 13th-ranked Italy.

But more puzzling is the manner in which the Boks have played. They seemingly have no plan, no structure, no leadership and no defensive system.

This relates to a lack of guidance - for which the head coach needs to take responsibility.

With Coetzee at the helm, the Stormers had the best defence in Super Rugby, and while their guru Jacques Nienaber has now left the country to join Erasmus at Munster in Ireland, it’s hard to fathom that Coetzee couldn’t apply some of those principles with the current team.

As coach of the Stormers, Coetzee was labelled conservative but upon his announcement as national coach, he highlighted the need to evolve the team into playing a more open, expansive game.

He failed with that as well.

So what's the issue? Why are things looking so bleak under the guidance of a man who has shown so much promise?

Perhaps there are too many voices in the current team set-up. Matt Proudfoot was drafted in upon the request of Coetzee, this after Johann van Graan was already on board as forwards coach. The team has gone through three defensive coaches in mere months, while Franco Smith’s selection for the year-end tour made it clear that Mzwandile Stick’s abilities as backline coach were being doubted.

Yes, Coetzee had limited preparation time and had to make do with some of the cards he was dealt, but in the cut-throat world of professional sports, the buck always stops with the head coach.

He is the one calling the shots, guiding the ship.

Unfortunately for the Boks, that ship struck an iceberg in 2016 and the coach is to blame.

If a man of Coetzee's experience cannot muster a win against lowly Italy, then it’s right to ask the question: "Where did it all go so horribly wrong for Toetie"?

Herman Mostert works at Sport24 - is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...

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