Cape Town - Suggestions that side-lined but still contracted Springbok head coach Allister Coetzee has a merely “verbal” performance stipulation are believed to be wide of the mark.
Sport24 has information suggesting that a performance clause is on paper in his contract, even if there may be interpretive differences as Coetzee stubbornly digs in his heels over his clearly extremely tenuous post.
The issue is likely to still be a pivotal one in SA Rugby’s quest - now the most open of “secrets” - to part company with “Toetie” after two rocky years in charge with a flimsy Test win percentage of 44 (11 victories from 25).
The twice World Cup-winning Boks also languish at sixth on the World Rugby rankings (extremely unfamiliar territory for them) despite slight improvement in the results column during 2017.
Some reports over the last few weeks have indicated that a performance clause was not written into his contract and a “verbal agreement” was the questionable determinant in that area.
But Sport24 has learnt - even though SARU themselves have stated of late that they will not discuss employer-employee issues publicly - that it is, in fact, inked into his papers.
The great majority of Bok enthusiasts would, no doubt, find it mind-blowing if Coetzee did not have a clear-cut enough clause on that front, in black and white.
He entered the job, after all, with no prior experience as an international-level head coach - although he had been on the support staff when Jake White helped land the Webb Ellis Cup in France in 2007 - and straight out of the moderate Japanese club scene.
Coetzee had chiselled out his Bok supremo credentials primarily on the strength of consistently competitive Stormers teams in Super Rugby - he coached them from 2010 to 2015 - although they never won the tournament and their safety-first brand of rugby curtailed the admiration he earned in the eyes of the public.
Given the known intention of SARU to entrust their newly-installed director of rugby Rassie Erasmus with the main Bok “tracksuit” task as well in 2018, a freshly toxic climate now exists around the national team at a time when supporters only wish to see the waters smooth with another World Cup a further year ahead in 2019.
Coetzee has penned a letter to SARU chief executive Jurie Roux in which the strongest theme appears to be his belief that the majority of problems in his two-year tenure thus far have been due to factors outside his control.
He has suggested that he was “set up to fail” by some within the corridors of power, and cited drawbacks like the timing of his appointment in 2016 (only two months before the Boks were due to entertain Ireland in a three-Test series), policy on overseas-based players, and his perceived lack of support over transformation.
Coetzee’s rising pool of detractors will be inclined to counter by saying that he knew the immediate, fixture-related perils of his appointment when it occurred, and it also seems disingenuous that he has brought up transformation matters considering how he largely marginalised a considerable number of promising players of colour throughout his first two years at the tiller.
Players like Lukhanyo Am, Nizaam Carr, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, S’bu Nkosi, Ox Nche, Warrick Gelant and others were either ignored or given very curtailed opportunities by Coetzee, even as some of the personnel he routinely trusted glaringly failed to deliver the goods.
It is unclear at this stage whether “Toetie-gate” will drag on laboriously: in fairness, he has employee rights that he is entitled to defend, including through legal channels if necessary, although a merciful settlement shortly cannot be ruled out.
Some observers may be inclined to suspect the matter is not about to go away just yet, considering Coetzee’s stated goal of fighting “to protect my hard-earned reputation”.
Even if Erasmus is already industriously plotting how to take down formidable England over the course of three home Tests in June - now just four full calendar months away - the fact remains that as things stand the Springboks still, awkwardly, have a head coach, albeit that he is quite clearly persona non grata in official circles at SARU ...
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