Rugby Championship

Coetzee's hospital pass from SA Rugby

2016-10-10 07:20
Allister Coetzee (Gallo)

Durban - It was nothing short of brutal.

The Springboks' 57-15 loss to the All Blacks in Durban on Saturday was not only embarrassing for the players, coaching staff and supporters but it illustrated just how far the Boks have fallen this year.

And that picture is scary.

Allister Coetzee's reign is not going anywhere near according to plan and, even more concerning, is that there doesn't appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel right now.

Coetzee says he has a plan, but South African supporters certainly have no idea what that plan is.

Ahead of the Ireland series in June, Coetzee's first Springbok squad was one that suggested a change in mindset and the beginning of a new era. 

Remember Garth April? He was the third-choice flyhalf in that squad as Coetzee spoke about a willingness to evolve the Springbok playing style while he also claimed that he would back local players ahead of those based abroad. 

There was a definite optimism that accompanied Coetzee's first squad.

Now, nine matches into the Coetzee era, the Boks have u-turned on both of those fronts. 

There are more and more overseas-based players being called up, while before the Australia clash at Loftus two weekends ago Coetzee and the Boks reverted to a brand of rugby that prioritises territory over possession and penalty goals over tries. 

The Boks have not scored a try since the 18th minute in Christchurch - more than 220 minutes of rugby. 

Coetzee has spoken about the difficulties in finding a balance between winning Test matches and evolving, and it is an unenviable task, but it is precisely there where he could have been better from the very beginning. 

Before that Ireland series, there should have been a plea for patience from the Bok coach. 

He could have come out, right at the get-go, and warned the public that his plan with the Boks was going to take time. 

If evolving into a more attack-minded side that scores tries with ball in hand or if finding a balance between that and the traditional strengths of South African rugby was what Coetzee wanted to do, then he should have looked to do so at all costs and without compromise.

It seems now that there was not enough conviction in backing the original desired style. 

In those Tests against Ireland, the Boks looked to run the ball from everywhere and had a new-look side that suggested they could. 

It was a work in progress, but there were signs that they could get it right. 

But as the pressure grew on Coetzee, he began to revert back to the tried and tested. 

A crucial moment was surely the 26-24 loss in Argentina.

That left Coetzee with two unwanted 'firsts' after just five matches in charge - no Bok side had ever lost at home to Ireland or away in Argentina. 

By the end of the Australasia leg of the Rugby Championship, and two more losses, Coetzee had run out of patience and flicked the final switch to turn off the lights on the revolution. 

Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk were dropped, and Morne Steyn was asked to kick the Boks to a much-needed win against the Wallabies at Loftus. 

He obliged and the Boks were back to winning ways, but playing that way was never going to trouble the All Blacks. 

Still, nobody would have expected the damage to be as bad as it was on Saturday. 

Coetzee, first and foremost, needs to figure out exactly what it is he is trying to achieve in terms of playing style and then back that with conviction and purpose. 

Secondly, he needs to be vocal on exactly what the plan is going forward so that the people who support this team know where they stand. 

If he is looking to give youngsters time to evolve in a bid to change the philosophy of this team, then he needs to explain that. 

At the moment, though, it seems that there is no clear goal. And it might only seem that way because the goal, whatever it is, has not been clearly communicated. 

How do you achieve something if you don't know exactly what it is you're trying to achieve? 

South African rugby needs to sort that out first before any recovery plan can be executed. 

There are fundamental problems, and the reality is that Coetzee received the hugest hospital pass in the history of Springbok coaching. 

There was no succession plan in place after Heyneke Meyer. 

Coetzee, appointed six months later than he should have been, inherited a team that had lost experienced players at a time when SA Rugby was asking for a new brand of rugby to be implemented.

Political pressure on this team is also at an all-time high, and Coetzee has come up against perhaps the greatest team in the history of the game in this All Black side. 

When you factor in that Coetzee was also given a coaching staff not of his own desire, it is hard to see how his first little period in charge could have ended successfully. 

If SA Rugby really knew where they were going, then they would have had a plan for who the next Bok coach would be long before Heyneke Meyer lost in the semi-finals of the World Cup. 

The philosophy, targets and end mechanisms used to achieve those targets need to be put in place by SA Rugby and then they need to find the best people available who can facilitate achieving those goals. 

It seems like none of this has been done. 

Coetzee has had to start completely from scratch, and he will now have to wipe the slate completely clean once again. 

It doesn't seem quite fair, but he needs to back himself now more than ever because it is up to him to come up with a plan in terms of how this side is going to become competitive against the best in the world again. 

Then, once he has that plan, he needs to implement it without fear or favour. 

Listening to Steve Hansen talk after the game on Saturday, it became clear that everybody involved in New Zealand rugby from top to bottom is on the same page. Every day, every week, every year.

Hansen's words in that press conference were chilling if you were South African.

"I think the big thing that we've got going for us at home is that we've got quality people; quality administrators from Steve Tew (NZ Rugby CEO) down the board," Hansen said.

"They're making good decisions and the franchises are driven well and those coaches are striving to be better all the time themselves.

"You go right down to our schools rugby where they're trying to produce players that can become professionals.

"The golden goose is central contracts. When you've got good administrators at the top who control the contracts then everyone has to work together, because you've only got one pay-master.

"At home, we've got one agenda: we just want to make good rugby players. It doesn't matter what team you're coaching or what team you're in ... the idea is to win matches and make good rugby players and we benefit from that.

"There is a lot of work that goes down and a lot of work that goes up, and as a result we're producing good players."

At the moment, it's men versus boys in absolutely all departments. 

Whatever happens now needs to happens swiftly.

There is obviously no quick fix, but the first step has to be to get everybody involved on the same page.


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