Rob Houwing

Allister’s off the hook

2014-10-26 21:15
Province’s Juan de Jongh and Allister Coetzee hold the Currie Cup trophy. (Carl Fourie, Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Safely delivered, as per instruction ... the 2014 Absa Currie Cup.

In fulfilling his mandate at Newlands on Saturday, Western Province coach Allister Coetzee has almost certainly guaranteed himself another crack at the elusive Super Rugby title with the Stormers.

Whether you like it or not, the same may well apply now to his long-time senior deputies, pack coach Matthew Proudfoot and backline string-puller Robbie Fleck, as the cabinet at the old stadium was gleefully prepared for housing of the domestic trophy for the second time in three years.

This trio were all under the cosh – from press, public and their own senior executives alike – earlier in the year as the Stormers sank to an unanticipated 11th-place overall finish in the latest edition of Super Rugby, and humdrum third in the innocuous SA conference.

But well before the ordinary-season phase of the competition even ended, the Newlands bosses had already acted quite firmly and decisively by installing Gert Smal – one of the on-field heroes of the Currie Cup golden era of the mid-1980s – as director of rugby.


It seemed pretty obvious that his very appointment was a well-aimed rocket up the rear ends of Coetzee and company, who at the time were too often responsible for sterile, defence-obsessed exhibitions of rugby that were seriously testing the good nature of the turnstile patrons.

The message, presumably, was fairly clear to the brains trust ... buy into what your new supervisor wants or face the likelihood of shipping out.

To their credit, signs of a more adventurous, imaginative playing style quickly became apparent as the Stormers at least ended Super Rugby rather better than they had begun it.

This new positivity was, understandably, expected to translate into a commanding showing in the Currie Cup, even given the competition’s increasingly “development” flavour this year with strong smoke signals – later adhered to – that top, contracted Springboks would probably play no part in it for a change.

WP president Thelo Wakefield even bluntly stated that wresting back the trophy was a non-negotiable ... another way of saying a noose was being prepared for potential use on Coetzee and his lieutenants.

Title glory

Instead an ever-increasing thrill factor seeped into the collective ranks of the WP team, as they scored some sublime tries – often from brilliantly-won turnover ball a long way out – en route to comfortable table-topping finish of the Currie Cup round-robin stage and then lucrative, successive home knockout fixtures that culminated in title glory.

Newlands, for all the periods of disenchantment and major tournament near-misses of recent seasons, remains one of the few grounds in the country capable of drawing a near-capacity attendance of 45,000 for a Currie Cup showpiece sans headline Springboks.

Not only did Coetzee’s charges claim the cup while more hamstrung than their final opponents by Bok absenteeism, they did so while still, to some extent, experiencing the injury hoodoo that has stalked both the Stormers and WP for a couple of years.

Never mind obvious blue-chip names like Duane Vermeulen, Jean de Villiers and Eben Etzebeth, the WP side also had to make do this campaign either partially or wholly without crocked staple figures Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe (probably the union’s two best props), Siya Kolisi, Ruan Botha and Tiaan Liebenberg.  

If Coetzee and his closest aides could not be sacked when times were tough, doing so when a significant laurel has been landed and a new spirit of excitement prevails is hardly the logical time to do it, either.

Injury bombshells

Fuelled by the advent of a new, much-needed multi-dimensional way of going about their business, many street-wise WP Currie Cup players will look forward to another quest to be among the front-runners of Super Rugby in 2015, joined not only by top-line Springboks but also now fast-emerging rookies like Jean Kleyn, Cheslin Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla.

Unless there is an inexplicable, sudden exodus of key personnel or any new long-term injury bombshells, the Stormers should not lack for healthy depth in most positions.  

“Toetie” Coetzee, 51, is unlikely to be feeling nearly as insecure as he might have been some five or six months ago about his chances of heading up a fifth season as that franchise’s head coach.

If a realistic new demand is to be made of him, it may well be ensuring that semi-final status, at the very least, is restored by his men in Super Rugby next year.

It increasingly seems well within their grasp, too.

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    currie cup  |  cape town  |  rugby

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