Cape Town - The statistics as Springbok coaches in the post-isolation era of Allister Coetzee and Rudolf Straeuli have much in common for shakiness, and the inevitable levels of associated public and pundit ridicule.
Of those who have had the Bok tiller for meaningful periods - let’s say 22 Tests (Coetzee’s current tally) or more - the pair come up worst for all-important win percentages.
Coetzee now stands at 41 percent (only nine victories so far, though in fairness he also has two draws against Australia), whilst Straeuli, who had the reins between 2002 and 2003, was actually a fair bit better for his completed tenure - 12 wins from 23 outings (52 percent).
But their modest returns, bearing in mind respective overseeing of a supposed rugby superpower, make Nick Mallett (71 percent) and Jake White, Heyneke Meyer and Peter de Villiers (all comfortably in the sixties) look so much better.
Coetzee and Straeuli share another phenomenon: wretched records from relatively short sampling of European winter conditions on Bok tours.
The incumbent is now running 0/4 in Tests there, following Saturday’s pallid 38-3 reverse to Ireland in the 2017 tour opener, whilst Straeuli presided over a terrible, three-match 2002 trek in which these were the Bok results: 10-30 in France, 6-21 in Scotland and 3-53 in England.
But that is where similarities end, because they have notably opposite habits in team selection terms.
Straeuli’s “answer”, it so often seemed, to a crisis during his least productive days was to chop and change quite cavalierly.
In an era that featured short-lived Test appearances for fairly run-of-the-mill, with respect, provincial players like Friedrich Lombard, Pierre Uys, Norman Jordaan and Jorrie Muller, Straeuli simply could not settle confidently on combinations.
As reminded by Gavin Rich in his book The Poisoned Chalice (about the post-isolation Bok coaches, and before Coetzee took over): “The extent to which Straeuli dropped and capped players can be gleaned from the fact that 21 of the 30 players who went to on the 2002 end-of-year tour didn’t make it to the 2003 World Cup.”
In many individual instances, Coetzee cannot be accused of knee-jerk, panicked selection … in fact, he has stuck so doggedly to certain routinely low performers that you desperately want (at least I certainly do) to take a medical hammer to his knee by way of wake-up.
There is little doubt in my mind that he has done himself no favours at all by failing to make changes with suitable urgency in berths where mediocrity seems the very ceiling of ability or potential at the highest level.
The most glaring case in point is the constantly frail back three where, frankly, it amazes me that the 10 Test matches this year - not an inconsiderable sum - have seen the head mastermind only employ four individuals across the berths.
Fullback Andries Coetzee and left wing Courtnall Skosan, in fact, have played every single match – though find me their genuinely incisive, impressive performances in the extended period and I will find you a blue giraffe – whilst lamentable Raymond Rhule got seven appearances on the trot at right wing before Dillyn Leyds (himself only so-so thus far) put him out of his misery.
The “investment” in most cases, sadly, has been almost indisputably wasted, and now the Boks absolutely must scratch, even it is in relative dust, for new options … a situation that is barely different, regrettably, in midfield, the halfback alliance and one or two still-troublesome forward slots.
Loyalty to players, in the interests of seeking stability, can be a great virtue and, up to a point in this again-bumpy season, coach Coetzee deserved at least some kudos for adhering so patiently to the principle.
In the end, though, it only became an infuriatingly blinkered, inertia-like devotion and one that almost became a slap in the face for alternative candidates, some of whom must look on Bok matches and think “who am I then, chopped liver?”
Yes, “Toetie” needs to become just a tad more like Rudolf Straeuli. (Whoops ... just, er, not too much, mind.)
For the challenge of France in Paris on Saturday, it really is the time, and it should have happened weeks ago, for a meaningful shakeup in starting personnel if Coetzee is to somehow - and not too many will back it happening - begin restoring a more acceptable win curve.
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