Boks: Speedy turnaround IS possible!

2017-12-04 14:13
Allister Coetzee (Getty)

Cape Town - Let’s cut straight to the chase: in the eyes of the broad rugby world, the Springboks have slumped to a virtually unprecedented low, however you may wish to angle your spin on statistical returns by various Springbok coaches.

Up to the end of isolation, remember, the seldom anything but “superpower” Boks even held commanding 20-15 (two draws) bragging rights from bilateral Tests against the then equally-respected might of New Zealand, before the situation gradually slipped into increasingly violent reverse.

Once properly bedded back into the international family from 1992 onward, South Africa have very seldom strayed from beyond the top three in the pecking order, even if there have been significant, sometimes very disturbing dips and bumps.

Of the 11 head coaches since John Williams had a whistle-stop, mere five-match tenure right at the outset of the welcome back from the cold, incumbent Allister Coetzee’s starkly unacceptable 44 percent win record after two full seasons in charge puts him ahead of only Ian McIntosh (33.33) and Carel du Plessis (37.50) on that basis.

But bear in mind that Du Plessis presided over only eight Tests, including a British and Irish Lions series that was ultimately lost because of woeful place-kicking in the second Test, and McIntosh a dozen in just over a year at the helm - so both could be said to have had indecently little time to dig proper foundations.

If people thought the Boks had it bad in Rudolf Straeuli’s period - some 18 months between June 2002 and November 2003 - the perspective is that his win record of 52 percent still places him a good bit higher than the somehow still bullish, defiant but clearly deeply imperilled “Toetie”.

You have to think that Coetzee’s main Christmas present from his employers is going to be the sack.

I’d rate his survival chance at no more than 10 or 15 percent at best - especially after Saturday’s latest, Euro tour-ending debacle, in many senses, at the hands of effectively a Wales ‘A’ outfit in Cardiff.

He is in cuckoo land - and so are the players still backing him, to be honest, even if their naïve, enduring loyalty is endearing - if he honestly believes that his Boks remain on the right path.

So, an effectively frittered-away two years for the Boks, especially coming on the heels of an immediate predecessor (Heyneke Meyer) who was way ahead with a 66.6 percent record?

Sadly, but brutally, yes.

The spotlight now inevitably, increasingly turns to Rassie Erasmus in his director of rugby capacity, and not just how much he will get involved specifically on the Bok playing side of things in the remaining two years to the next World Cup, but who his key right-hand personalities will be and how they gel under his supreme command.

If there’s one cause for optimism - and I’d say long-suffering Bok fans need anything they can grab on that front - it is that one inspiring individual with a firm, confident vision can make a massive difference, can disperse a deep fog, surprisingly quickly for the modern Springboks.

There are two standout cases from the quite recent annals: Kitch Christie and Nick Mallett.

Christie, since deceased, stands in folklore as one of the most strikingly successful “ambulance job” national coaches in any sport, taking a fragile Bok side which had split a short home series with England and been beaten 2-0 in a three-Test series in New Zealand all the way to maiden World Cup glory in 1995 - and a dazzling overall record at the tiller of played 14, won 14.

He was a determined, single-minded character in selection terms, quite prepared to ruffle broader provincial feathers with his unapologetic devotion to players he knew and trusted - mostly notably and prolifically, from his beloved Transvaal team - as he assembled a group capable of delivering the Webb Ellis Cup at remarkably short notice and then actually making it happen.

Think about it: there are few true superstars in the current, severely labouring Bok environment, but in the same breath, who would have assuredly predicted on the brink of RWC ’95 that men like Balie Swart, Hannes Strydom, Chris Rossouw and Garry Pagel would so swiftly graduate to World Cup winners?

Similarly, Bok rugby was at an unusually low ebb when Mallett took charge in the spring of 1997, in the unpleasant slipstream of a one-win-from-four Tri-Nations season that was a final nail in the Carel du Plessis coffin after that earlier 2-1 reverse to the touring Lions.

You would have been branded certifiably crazy at that time if you had dared to suggest that what would follow would be a record run of 16 mostly glittering victories in a row.

Even more remarkably, Mallett’s first five matches, all on a demanding European tour and at a time when you might have feasibly expected at least some teething issues, were especially handsome and vibrant.

On that all-conquering adventure, Italy (Bologna) were drubbed 62-31, France suppressed 36-32 in Lyon and then a fairytale 52-10 in their Parisian stronghold, England downed by as many as 18 points at Twickenham and Scotland mercilessly dealt with 68-10 in Edinburgh.

We switched from “dronkverdriet”, if you like, to enthusiastic callers for celebratory sparkling wine in the space of a few blissfully unanticipated weeks.

Christie and Mallett provide examples of how it is possible, even if not enormously common, for reinvention to take place with stunning haste and from the most harrowing of positions ... with the right strings pulled by a dynamic, bold and infectiously respect-worthy personality.

I would not be so cavalier or daft as to suggest that, under the tutelage of Erasmus and his yet to be determined allies, the Boks are going to transform overnight into a fresh force to be reckoned with.

But there is also scope yet for South Africa to get their ducks back into the kind of organised row that comes well in time for a credible challenge for the RWC 2019 spoils in Japan. 

That’s assuming, of course, that the right thing is done and Coetzee shortly put out of his (seemingly unknowing and unacknowledging, which is only extra scary) misery ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  allister coetzee  |  rugby


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