Lloyd Burnard

Coetzee has dropped the transformation ball

2017-11-22 10:57
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - Allister Coetzee, by all accounts, is likely to be sacked after two seasons of disappointing Springbok results. 

He has set some new lows for South African rugby along the way, but a closer look at his tenure reveals that it is not just in the win/loss columns where he has failed the national side. 

The coach, fighting for his life since he lost his first Test against Ireland on June 11 last year, has seemingly become less and less interested in the demographic make-up of his Boks as results have worsened. 

The mandate is clear: ensure that the squad that travels to the World Cup in 2019 is made up of 50% players of colour. 

That order came from the very top when the Department of Sport and Recreation threatened to pull the plug on allowing SA Rugby to bid for and host major tournaments. 

That, of course, doesn't really matter anymore after South Africa was shafted at last week's World Rugby Council vote to determine the tournament hosts in 2023, but there is no getting away from the fact that transformation needs to be accelerated at a national level. 

When Heyneke Meyer was approaching the end of his tenure in 2015, he found the going tough in that regard. 

Moving Jesse Kriel from centre to the wing at the expense of Lwazi Mvovo and playing Pieter-Steph du Toit at flank ahead of Siya Kolisi didn't help his cause, and by the end of his reign there was the general perception that Meyer didn't trust his players of colour. 

With the arrival of Coetzee, black rugby players would finally be given their shot. 

Coetzee at the Stormers had been vocal on his transformation successes back then, and his understanding of and ability to facilitate transformation while still selecting on merit provided encouraging signs for the national side. 

When Coetzee came out ahead of his first Test in charge and boldly claimed that local players would be backed ahead of overseas-based players, and when he gave call-ups to the likes of Garth April, Lionel Mapoe, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Scarra Ntubeni and Bongi Mbonambi, there was a real sense that this Bok team was on a unique path towards becoming the most representative we had ever seen. 

Since then, though, Coetzee has moved backwards and his use of black players has been questionable. 

Hookers Bongi Mbonambi and Chiliboy Ralepelle have felt it.

In 2016 Adriaan Strauss was the first-choice No 2 and in 2017 it has rightly been Malcolm Marx, but Coetzee has hardly ever given his reserve hookers a proper run off the bench.

Ralepelle, for example, was named in two Bok squads during the Rugby Championship without ever getting on the field. 

If you can't trust the guy with five minutes in a high-pressure match situation, then what are you saying about the faith you have in him? It sends the wrong message. 

The same applies to Rudy Paige, who has been the ultimate bench-warmer. 

This past weekend, he looked on as Ross Cronje gave another uninspiring display in the No 9 jersey for 80 minutes. 

Just what Paige has to do to get a start is anybody's guess. 

Lukhanyo Am is still waiting for his opportunity with Coetzee instead backing Damian de Allende and then Francois Venter at No 12 on this tour while Jesse Kriel has held onto the No 13 jersey all year despite having done little to justify it. 

Oupa Mohoje is on tour, but doing a large amount of nothing, and when there was a gap in the loose forward trio because of a concussion to Pieter-Steph du Toit, Coetzee rushed in Duane Vermeulen while Mohoje and Uzair Cassiem were overlooked completely for the match-day squad against France. Instead, Vermeulen came straight in while Dan du Preez was given a debut. 

Then there is the case of Warrick Gelant at fullback, who must surely be knocking on the door as a potential replacement to Andries Coetzee, who has not had a great year in Bok colours. 

Coetzee has picked the right players of colour and, more than that, the poor performance of his side has given him license to back them. But, for whatever reason, he hasn't.

And, as 2019 draws near and with government pressure certain to heighten if the side is not representative, it is in the best interests of the national cause for the coach to give players opportunities. 

So far, Coetzee has not done that, and with time running out for him it looks to be too late now. 

Results aside, Coetzee was supposed to be the appointment that moved the Springboks through the murky territory that had accompanied Meyer's reign. 

That has not happened. 

The only players of colour who can currently claim to be regular Bok starters are Tendai Mtawarira, Siya Kolisi, Courtnall Skosan and Dillyn Leyds. 

Two full international seasons into Coetzee's tenure that return, much like what he has delivered on the field, is nowhere near good enough.

The Bok team for Saturday's Test against Italy is announced on Thursday. Let's wait and see ...

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

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