Springboks

Boks: Allister’s motor always spluttered

2018-02-02 13:26
Allister Coetzee (Gallo)

Cape Town - It started innocuously, and ended with that description really being a touch too generous.

STATS: How Coetzee's tenure stacks up

That, when all is said and done, was the virtually indisputable truth about Allister Coetzee’s volatile, two-year tenure as head coach of the Springboks ... a reign that came to an official, inevitable but mutually diplomatic enough close on paper in a late-morning media release from SA Rugby’s Plattekloof headquarters on Friday.

Of all the post-isolation Bok coaches to preside over more than a dozen Test matches, a bottom line that stands out in indelible red ink is Coetzee’s worst-faring-of-the-lot win percentage of 44 from 25 matches.

The once-superpower Springboks are currently so far from where they are more accustomed to being on the global pecking order (where they are officially sixth, sandwiched like last Sunday’s fish-paste between Scotland and Wales) that it is very, very hard for anyone to have mounted a passionate, minds-changing case for Coetzee’s retention.

For me, the only, short-lived period in which tangible progress seemed apparent during Toetie’s time came when, in the June window last year, France were fairly rousingly disposed of in a trio of home Tests.

I will also concede this much in Coetzee’s defence: he had made a good captaincy call for 2017 with Warren Whiteley, and who knows how much brighter the Boks might have looked had the popular Lions-based figure not succumbed to long-term injury two-thirds of the way through that very French series?

Then again, we were later also served reminders of just how profoundly France have fallen as a national rugby power themselves (ninth as things stand), and needed to have also been more cognisant, perhaps, of just how jaded and sterile European teams often look when they visit the “south” in midyear straight off a gruelling own season in the mud and rain.

Under Coetzee’s tutelage, South Africa suffered some of the most hideous, dispiriting of losses possible to once level-pegging rivals New Zealand, and the way he picked “positives” from such occasions rather than candidly addressed shortcomings became a matter of only deeper infuriation to observers.

For one who picked horses-for-courses Stormers combinations astutely a lot of the time when they were a “very nearly” - if often less than thrilling - side for generous phases in Super Rugby, Coetzee’s Bok selections were all too often unfathomable in a number of positions.

Even as his charges looked enduringly like mid-ocean driftwood for identity and purpose, the coach kept astonishing faith for long periods in players - especially in wider positions on the park - who gave new meaning to rank mediocrity.

I am not customarily the type easily riled or agitated, but boy ... some of Toetie’s choices had me lunging for smelling salts or occasionally other appropriate elixirs, and only helped swell the deepening ridicule around him.

Another balancing concession at this point: he did assemble some competent, workmanlike packs of forwards, albeit sometimes only of a level to stand toe to toe with gnarly opponents rather than actually, noticeably dominate them.  

Coetzee’s game-day tenure with the Boks, remember also, ended with just another numbing reverse to what was little more than a Wales ‘A’ combo in a debatable, out-of-window Test match in Cardiff on December 2.

Few of the hard-pressed rugby public in South Africa will be happy that Coetzee’s employment (meaning any national coach’s employment, rather than his specifically) was terminated midway through an intended four-year cycle to the next World Cup.

But a gatvol factor around so many matters relating to the sport in this country is probably so deep-rooted that it may well be digested quite philosophically.

People will sigh and figure that we move on ... maybe simply to the next drama in a society, both sporting and otherwise, where nothing ever seems straightforward.

Is there time to turn things around for the Springboks, at least to a reasonably profound extent, in the next 19 months to Japan 2019?

Feasibly, yes: men like Nick Mallett, who thundered off as head coach in positively blistering style, or Kitch Christie, who accepted an ambulance job and ended up looking a crack surgeon with seminal RWC triumph in 1995, are examples of how installation of the right stuff can bring enormous rewards. 

It is the most open of secrets that the feverishly industrious, clever plotter who is Rassie Erasmus will extend his director of rugby title into a dual presence as effective national coach, presumably right up to and into that maiden World Cup in the Far East.

A former Bok coach I chatted to recently reminded that Erasmus is legendary for his “immediate impacts” ... even if he also not hugely renowned for longevity in high-pressure positions and, perhaps a little worryingly, enjoys concocting the bulk his highly-rated strategic excellence in his own, pretty quiet space away from the glare of media scrutiny.

But he will have broadened his already advanced range of skills even more in his high-powered stint with Irish force Munster - a sound foothold from an insight perspective into northern-hemisphere rugby culture broadly.

At least that bodes well for South Africa having a fighting enough chance of toppling Eddie Jones’s England over the course of three Tests on our turf during June, and the full “Team Erasmus” is expected to be revealed before February has run its course.

Pleasant guy, credible first-class track record, and hopefully that won’t change. But Toetie, who stumbled lamentably in his big step up, HAD to go.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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