Bok coach: Do alternatives cut it?

2015-10-27 11:56
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)

Cape Town – It is one thing to call for the replacement of the Springbok rugby coach in the wake of a largely “failed” RWC 2015. It is another to have ducks firmly in a row as available succession candidates.

READ: Which Boks will say goodbye on Friday?

READ: Boks need to change their game style

That is one reason I find myself teetering a bit: inclined now to support the belief that it is time for fresh ideas after a four-year cycle in charge by Heyneke Meyer that has too clearly subsided at a critical time rather than flourished, but also with reservations about the potential quality or experience of coaches who may be interested enough to apply should the post become vacant.

I am increasingly seduced by the idea that SARU ending their traditional aversion, if that is the right word, to foreign masterminds could be a healthy move.

For several years, not just our national team but the still strongest “feeder” of its personnel – the Super Rugby landscape – have been characterised by a lack of inspiration and overly conservative, outmoded-looking game-plans from domestic coaches.

It goes a long way to explaining why the Rugby Championship (formerly Tri-Nations) title has been elusive to the SA cabinet since 2009, and the overall Super Rugby honours haven’t been banked, either, since the last of three Bulls conquests in 2010.

But precisely which men from foreign climes are genuinely keen on the Bok post, rather than just claiming interest (as happens pretty often) because it stokes their egos and helps fuel media speculation?

The job comes with certain globally unique demands and stresses, and ours is a currency anything but attractive, so many millions of rands would have to be shelled out to lure a big fish.

If you are thinking Eddie Jones, he is on the dotted line for next year with the Stormers – in itself, something that could be in the national interest as well – although inevitably also linked with similar instability surrounding the blue-chip England role.

Robbie Deans? The New Zealand-born Crusaders legend was supposed to be the Australian messiah, but look how that turned out ... for a good while the Wallabies arguably plumbed depths lower than most the Boks have experienced under Meyer’s sometimes pleasing (yes!) guidance.

So that brings us back to South African coaching terrain where, unsurprisingly, long-time Stormers head coach Allister Coetzee and the Lions’ Currie Cup 2015-winning Johan Ackermann head the Bok job “possibles” touted in the domestic press should there be a U-turn on Meyer’s reported contract extension.

For different reasons, I cannot bring myself to feel especially partial yet to either, despite fully acknowledging certain feathers already beneath caps (more in the case of seasoned Coetzee, 52) or likely to only start accumulating with pleasing haste from here (45-year-old Ackermann).

The presently Japan-based Coetzee made the Stormers a very tenacious, consistently “thereabouts” side in Super Rugby, often enough winning what is branded with sound reason these days the “real Currie Cup” – the SA conference trophy in the SANZAR competition – but also never quite being able to go all the way to the main prize.

While an astute defensive strategist and manufacturer of teams broadly tough to crack, he often fell prey to criticism that his template was too joyless and cautious to put him and his teams in a position to ever completely dominate Super Rugby.

He is a decent man with many gifts as a coach, but given the current, resurgent and restless debate along very similar lines over Meyer’s unadventurous hang-in, soak-it-up strategy seen so painfully in the two RWC knockout fixtures from the Boks, “Toetie” hardly seems dreamily suited to a meaningful, very necessary ball-in-hand renaissance by South Africa.

So what about Ackermann? He also comes across as an engaging, sincere and passionate character in his public persona – but then Meyer ticks that box for the most part! –and under his tutelage the unsung, not exactly big-budget Lions have begun playing a brand of “total rugby” that draws them closer to many New Zealand or Australian franchises in character.

I like him, and the culture he is beginning to create at Emirates Airline Park, while harbouring a suspicion that he needs to cut his teeth further at the lower levels (both Super Rugby and Currie Cup) for at least another year or two before serious talk of the national post should be entertained.

Call me one of those old farts who believes in patiently earning your stripes.

Despite their competitiveness with limited resources in Super Rugby earlier this year, the Lions were still only eighth overall out of 15 teams and a whole 24 points off the top of the ladder after ordinary season hostilities had been completed.

The great gees in the Lions camp clearly continued throughout their admirably unbeaten Currie Cup, but they did benefit from being the “Test union” who held onto the vast majority of their best personnel during a notably watered-down domestic season and while 31 Springboks from other franchises plied their trade a long way away at that pinnacle of events, the World Cup.

It is understandable that people seek an urgent, markedly new formula to restore Springbok rugby to status beyond that of constant bridesmaids (and occasionally not even that), if you like.

But if it’s going to happen, the guy heading it up had better be good. Seriously good.

The gig is a tough one, and at least Heyneke Meyer knows that ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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