Coaching job suits Coetzee ‘to a T’

2016-04-20 06:00

EVEN AT age 11 “Toetie” was showing a special love for rugby – and one fancies that many years earlier the opposition of two scrumhalves in the Springboks Tests against Robin Thompson’s 1955 British Lions would have inspired Allister Coetzee to follow in the footsteps of these two equally small fellows, Tommy Gentles and Dicky Jeeps, in that Test series.

The stirring Test battles between these two shorties – a history that might almost have come out of a Boys Own annual – must surely have inspired the young Coetzee to follow in their footsteps; become a top-class scrumhalf in the same mould. For the short stocky lad from the Eastern Cape the position was tailor-made, as was the nickname “Toetie”, which captured the youngster’s build... well yes, “to a T”. Now at the ripe old age of 53 he reaches the pinnacle of his career next month. Happy birthday, Toetie!

No, he would never become a Springbok. It wasn’t quite the done thing in those days. But he would be highly ranked enough to be a Junior Springbok in l992 and to represent Eastern Province in the Currie Cup between 1992 and 1996. He also represented the PE-based team in the 1994 Super 10 competition. Earlier, between 1988 and 1991 he captained the SARU national team, as it was then known.

The former schoolteacher retired from the game in 1996 and was immediately appointed assistant coach for EP in 1996. Next step up was coaching Emerging Springboks in 2001, while a year earlier he’d also climbed another rung up the coaching ladder with his appointment as one of the assistants to head coach Harry Viljoen’s Springboks. And the climb continued.

Eastern Province’s head coach from 2001 – the first black coach of a provincial side in South Africa – he remained EP’s number one until resigning in July 2003.

It’s been a long and mainly successful road for “Toetie”. Backline Stormers’ coach in 2008 and WP Currie Cup head coach. Now well on his way Coetzee led the Stormers to three South African Conference titles during his tenure as head coach and was also successful with Western Province, winning the Currie Cup twice in 2012 and 2014. What’s more he’s worked with some of the best: Ian McIntosh with the Sharks, Harry Viljoen and Jake White with the national squad. There’s also his major head coach stint with Western Province 2008-15 (108 matches). These are just some of the coaching positions Coetzee, mainly with outstanding success, has held.

Teaching is in the blood of the Coetzee family. His late father Phillip was a schoolteacher, so are his two brothers, his sister and his sister-in-law and his wife, Dianne. Some are principals or school vice-principals.

The Boks, no doubt, are in good hands. “Teaching must be in our blood,” says Coetzee. “I was a fulltime teacher myself for 18 years.” He takes his work seriously. In Japan he soon learnt enough of the language so as to enable him to greet his players correctly on their birthdays!

Switching to events slightly more mundane, it must’ve been heartening to Lions coach, Johan Ackermann, to hear former Bok coach and TV commentator, Nick Mallett, describe the Lions-Stormers game at Ellis Park as “outstanding, a really fine game of rugby”. (Lions pulling off an exciting 29-22 win.) Mallett even going so far as to suggest Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk at halfback for the coming Tests against Ireland. Now there’s a thought for you!

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