The Test series against France saw a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for Allister Coetzee’s Springboks, who romped to a 3-0 series win this past weekend.
The Boks were unrecognisable from the hapless bunch of 2016, who won a meagre four of 12 Tests.
It was the worst win performance in a calendar year for any Springbok coach and Coetzee could count his lucky stars he was not axed.
But the Bok mentor survived and deserves credit for turning a sinking ship into more steady waters.
Coetzee no doubt made a few right calls which helped in the demolition job against France.
Firstly, he got his captaincy decision spot on.
Warren Whiteley is no doubt a great leader of men. It’s clearly a happy group of players who respect their captain.
Whiteley can justify his position in the starting team and with his general conduct he sets an example for his team-mates to follow.
A sign of a happy team is always a committed one and that commitment was evident throughout the series in the way the team defended.
France bossed possession and territory for large parts, but the Springbok defence proved resolute and it will stand them in good stead for the rest of the year.
Secondly, and unlike last year, Coetzee did not drop the ball with his selections.
The majority of his starting teams in the France series were made up of players from the Lions, South Africa’s only in-form team in Super Rugby and with a realistic chance of winning the competition.
The ‘brotherhood’ that is so evident at the Lions appears to have rubbed off on their Springbok team-mates - case in point in case was how Rudy Paige was swamped by team-mates when he scored his first Test try at Ellis Park last weekend.
Thirdly, Coetzee realised he needed expert help in certain areas.
For me, a hallmark of the tumultuous 2016 campaign was the lack of direction the team played with.
I couldn’t fathom what game style was followed and the players’ commitment left much to be desired.
Brendan Venter was roped in as defence and exits consultant and improvements in that regard were evident for all to see.
The Boks are also more potent with ball in hand and for that the addition of Franco Smith as attack and skills coach has reaped rewards.
Mzwandile Stick was thrown into the deep end as backline coach last year and allowing Coetzee to pick his own management team has paid dividends.
In an interview on Afrikaans rugby programme SuperRugby on Monday night, Coetzee spoke about how valuable last year’s coaching indabas and the pre-series camp in Plettenberg Bay proved and I’ll add that as a fourth reason where ‘Toetie’ boxed clever in his preparations for the 2017 season.
There’s no doubt room for improvement as it must be noted that the French were not up to the standards of Les Bleus outfits who have toured these shores in the past.
Their lack of invention was evident and surprising for a team historically renowned for its flair.
However, you can only play what’s in front of you and the Boks should enter the Rugby Championship with confidence.
Australian rugby is at an all-time low, and with Argentina also struggling, South Africa should prove the toughest test for the pace-setting All Blacks.
The Boks aren’t ready to beat the All Blacks just yet, but steps in the direction have been taken and for that the head coach deserves plaudits.
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