There’s not much that can be said about Springbok coach Allister Coetzee’s tenure so far, but one thing is certain: he’s an expert at surviving even the poorest of performances.
Coetzee’s selection as Bok coach was questioned from the outset; yes, he had been under the guidance of Jake White during South Africa’s successful World Cup campaign in 2007, but he has had a string of lacklustre seasons in charge of the Stormers in Super Rugby. I would love to know the criteria to become Springbok coach, because winning is clearly not one of them.
The performance of the Springboks against Wales this past weekend was the icing on a very floppy, and poorly constructed cake; one which Coetzee loves to over-indulge in despite his horrid 44% win-rate. “Unbelievable positives”, he said when describing what was taken out of the match and tour. “Unbelievable”, yes. “Positives”, no.
During the post-match interview, Coetzee highlighted that the Welsh took advantage by catching “our left winger” (Warren Gelant) out of position. Yup, the specialist fullback that Coetzee played out of position on the wing. There was a moment of déjà vu around this sentiment, harking back to a few weeks back when Coetzee called out Francois Hougaard for not having the “technical ability” for Test rugby; despite having played him again and again. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant — the fact that Coetzee uses it as an excuse after selecting him time and time again is the cause for concern.
Regarding the most recent result, Coetzee has gone on to blame the loss on the fact that the Wales Test was outside of the international window, meaning that overseas-based players could not participate. That policy left maybe two or three players out of contention, and considering the Springboks were up against a second (and arguably third) string Welsh side, the excuse is laughable.
The worst part of the whole Coetzee-saga is his inability to be honest. Say what you want about Heyneke Meyer, the man showed true disappointment and was extremely specific as to the practical reasons the team lost when they did, often blaming himself and management staff. Coetzee couldn’t be more different, highlighting all the “positives”, and when asked to list them, discusses the “new blood” he’s brought into the team. Taking credit for new players performing at Test level is a lofty declaration. Players such as Malcolm Marx, Warren Gelant, and Dan du Preez have all been groomed under their provincial and Super Rugby coaches. Selecting prosperous players for Springbok representation doesn’t make you brave or bold, it’s just doing the bare minimum of the job.
Yes, you can’t blame one man for the fault of many, but Coetzee’s delusion is the biggest weakness of the Springboks in this current predicament, and it spreads across his management team. The rugby world wants the Springboks to be a competitive force, with winning as their primary goal, and sadly, this is not Coetzee’s vision. Coetzee’s dismissive, often jokey answers to whether he will lose his job or not is rubbing salt into the wounds of players, spectators, and, worst of all, the game of rugby. Coetzee forgets that the fans are the real stakeholders of the game, and he’s on the verge (if not already there) of losing them, the respect of the opposition, and the change-room; and once that’s done, it’s a long crawl back to the top.