Rugby Championship

Springboks: Now not the time for panic

2017-09-19 08:49
Allister Coetzee (Getty)

Cape Town - Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter is having an easier ride than Springbok coach Allister Coetzee at the moment ... and that says a lot. 

While Baxter has all but blown Bafana's chances of booking a spot at the 2018 Soccer World Cup in Russia, Coetzee has just led the Springboks to the worst performance in their rugby history and the knives, once more, are out for the former Stormers boss. 

By now, he should be used to it. 

2016 was a shocker for South African rugby and every effort that the Boks had made to right those wrongs so far this year went up in smoke in Albany on Saturday. 

The Boks, seemingly, are back to square one. 

Coetzee, though, remains adamant that one loss - even though it was no ordinary loss - is not enough to wipe out the progress that this side had made in 2017. 

To some extent, he is correct. 

In 2016 the Boks lost in Salta while, this year, they ran out comfortable victors in that fixture. They also improved on their visit to Australia, turning a 23-17 loss against the Wallabies into a 23-23 draw in 2017. 

With a 3-0 win over the French starting the year, it seemed like things were on the right track. 

There was even a cautious and short-lived optimism that the Boks would be competitive against the All Blacks on Saturday. 

As is always the case when the Boks fall this hard, the backlash has been brutal. 

Supporters want answers, and Coetzee has not done himself any favours by suggesting that there were positives to take out of the All Black hammering. It was nowhere near good enough, and he needed to acknowledge as much. 

So, where to now? 

The Boks have a week off to contemplate a few things before home fixtures against the Wallabies in Bloemfontein and the All Blacks in cape Town bring the curtain down on the 2017 Rugby Championship. 

At this stage, it is important now that Coetzee does not repeat his mistakes of 2016.

Having lost all three of their away fixtures in the Rugby Championship last year, the Boks returned to South Africa for their final two home fixtures against the Wallabies and All Blacks under massive pressure. 

Coetzee's answer was to go back to Morne Steyn at flyhalf in a move that completely went against the desire to play expansive rugby that was punted so heavily at the start of the year. 

The Boks beat the Wallabies 18-10 at Loftus thanks to four penalties and two drop goals from Steyn in what was the most uninspiring victory of their season. 

It didn't matter to Coetzee, though, who was just happy to return to winning ways.

The very next weekend, the Boks were hammered 57-15 by the All Blacks in Durban. That was Steyn's last Test for the Boks and he was then ditched from the end-of-year tour as Coetzee changed his mind again. 

Going back to Steyn is obviously not an option for Coetzee now, but he should avoid similar panic selections.

Yes, he is up against it again, but he needs to back the decisions he has made so far this year, especially after insisting that the Boks are still on the right track immediately after Saturday's nightmare.

There have been calls for Coetzee to lure some of his overseas-based players back for the remainder of the Championship. 

Frans Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Louw and JP Pietersen are the names that have popped up. 

While there is an obvious value in all of those star names, Coetzee needs to avoid making wholesale changes going into the Wallabies in Bloemfontein next weekend. 

He has been consistent in his team selection for seven Tests this year, and panicking now and changing too much would not inspire confidence in the public or his players. 

That said, there are the obvious changes that need to be made ... or at least one of them. 

Raymond Rhule's defensive showing against the All Blacks will surely cost him his place for the Wallabies Test, and a call to Ruan Combrinck, currently in Japan, would be a popular choice. 

Coetzee is almost out of time.

Rassie Erasmus is on his way to South Africa next year and, when he arrives, he will put his own stamp on the team, especially if Coetzee is still struggling. 

If the Boks really are on the right track, as Coetzee says they are, then he needs to back the players he has invested in so far this year. 

There are six Tests remaining for the Boks in 2017: Australia and New Zealand at home and then Ireland, France, Italy and Wales away on the end-of-year tour. 

Five wins and a competitive showing against the All Blacks would be considered progress. 

Follow Sport24 journalist @LloydBurnard on Twitter...


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