Johannesburg - It didn’t take long for Springbok coach Allister Coetzee to be asked the million dollar question after his team completed their clean sweep of France in Johannesburg on Saturday, and he didn’t dodge it - Brendan Venter will remain on as a consultant.
According to the supersport.com website, the impact of Venter in his role as defence coach and beyond that has been one of the main driving forces behind the turn-around that has been affected by the national team at the start of the 2017 international season. Defence has been one area that has improved beyond recognition for the Boks since Coetzee’s troubled first year in charge, and in the last test of the series at Emirates Airlines Park the French had plenty of the play and yet the South Africans kept them from crossing the line.
However, there has been some confusion about Venter’s role with the Boks going forward, and when he was announced as a consultant a few months ago, the arrangement appeared open ended. There have been indications that Italy, who Venter helped out last year and in the Six Nations, think he still has a long term contract with them.
Rassie Erasmus is set to return to South Africa as a hands-on national director of rugby, and his long time right hand man and defence guru Jacques Nienaber is likely to come with him, thus further intensifying the speculation over whether Venter will be involved in the Rugby Championship.
“Brendan will be staying on as a consultant,” was Coetzee’s direct answer when asked about Venter’s immediate future with the Boks.
If that does prove the case, and Coetzee has Erasmus’ astute and revered rugby brain, which has won many northern hemisphere admirers in his stint in Ireland, working above him and Venter and backline coach Franco Smith working alongside him, plus Nienaber somewhere in the system, the Bok management will be rich in rugby intellect.
It will certainly be a far cry from Coetzee’s first year in charge, when the lack of preparation time was made more problematic by him having a lightweight and inexperienced coaching group under his charge.
Not everything went perfectly in the 35-12 win at Ellis Park. The lineouts were problematic, the scrums were frequently penalised and the team struggled to carry the ball beyond three or four phases. However, during the course of the series, which saw three emphatic wins for the Boks, all the various coaches in the Bok management saw their areas of expertise come through.
“It (our defensive effort) is not just about Brendan,” said Coetzee.
“It is also about getting buy in from Franco (Smith) on how important defence is, and on the forwards coaches understanding how it all fits in for a defensive lineout. There are lots of small things we have got right, and I must compliment the entire management on the amount of work that has been done to turn around our performances after a really difficult seven months following the end of last year.”
As was the case following the previous two tests, Coetzee was happy to admit that there is still a lot to work on.
“Even the defence is not perfect yet, we are still making mistakes. But the thing about defence is that there are aspects that can’t be coached. Attitude is a big thing, and willingness of the players to get quickly back up onto their feet and chase. I don’t think I have often seen a team chase like we did today, and you know when you see three locks fronting the chase in the 76th minute of the game, something is being done right.”
Where Coetzee is now is certainly light years different from where he was 12 months ago, when his team scraped to a narrow 2-1 series win over Ireland. In addition to the hard work put in by the management, he ascribes the turn-around to the greater time he has had to prepare this year.
“We have started out as we trained this year. The preparation time was there. You can’t build a team environment and culture in the week of a test match. How do you build a team or get a culture going if you don’t spend time with the players? Last year there was no time, this year we have had the time.
“Our common goal was to set the record straight after last year. There was a lot of criticism, but that wasn’t what motivated us. What motivated us was self-pride, the knowledge that we are a much better team of rugby players than last year’s record reflected. We have built our own value system and we have made adjustments that only the inner circle within the team can fix.”