Coetzee: Bok coach before Christmas

Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)
Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – It is almost the end of the year, so it seems as good a time as any to put my head on the block: there are three candidates for Springbok coach from 2016 onward.

One is Allister Coetzee. Another is Allister Coetzee. Oh, and lest I forget ... there’s Allister Coetzee, too.

Tell me I have been at the Christmas sherry a little early, but that is how strongly I suspect that the field is shrinking to only one all-legged horse in an almost non-existent “race” now – unless a clandestine lobby of provincial bosses has quietly mustered enough strength against the odds to produce some sort of last-ditch curveball.

It would also not surprise me too greatly if incumbent Heyneke Meyer clears the way for his successor by pulling out of contention for any contract extension very shortly – and by that I mean ahead of Saru’s general council meeting on December 11 where a vote on the post is scheduled to be taken.

Count out Lions coach Johan Ackermann, too: he will not garner enough support among the 14 unions (who have two votes each, plus a 29th belonging to Saru president Oregan Hoskins) at this stage, given a groundswell of belief that he is one more fittingly geared to a future crack after cutting his promising teeth for a bit longer at Super Rugby level.

There may be a ripple of support -- barely audible around the table -- for maiden employment of any mastermind from abroad.

But it has never previously gathered significant steam and there is no special reason for it to do so now.

Call me misguided, but I believe Meyer may be losing his appetite for the fight to press on.

At a time when bullish “electioneering” ought to be in full swing by an under-the-cosh character, he has become very muted after firing one or two defiant, not altogether well-considered salvoes in his defence in the immediate dust-trail of the Boks’ iffy RWC 2015.

It suggests to me that he may realise his boat is nearing treacherous rapids, and that his survival hope is tenuous.

Instead of paddling around the corner to hear an ominous roar and see towering spray, the temptation to moor the boat in dignified fashion on ripple-free waters must be near-overpowering.

If he does make that choice, he will leave in his wake a four-year legacy that was not all bad, and for a time even flirted ever so slightly with revolutionary as he introduced an unrepressed fullback in Willie le Roux and a riskily raw flyhalf in Handre Pollard who, initially at least, was empowered to have a crack without thinking of the script too much.

His charges went toe-to-toe in a handful of near-classics against New Zealand, and every now and then gave Australia a proper bloody nose, while also slugging their way cleverly and gallantly through successive unbeaten Euro adventures when southern legs are heavy in November.

But the definitive World Cup year of 2015 proved inconveniently painful for Meyer as his team suffered chronic choppiness in the results column – both before and during the tournament – and the ignominy, for a supposed superpower, of first-time losses to Argentina and Japan.

Along the way, a panic-stricken Meyer increasingly performed a U-turn on the Boks’ sometimes invigorating, panther-like raids on enemy try-lines, giving the impression that he had instead become hell-set only on reinventing the dodo.

It was a flightless bird before its extinction, and frankly that’s how ungainly, ponderous and sterile Meyer’s national team looked in a trio of RWC-ending matches against Wales, New Zealand and Argentina respectively.

Public and pundit affection for him nosedived with some force during those grim 240 minutes, and his year as a whole wasn’t helped by his maddeningly avoidable angering of the pro-transformation lobby through his treatment at different stages of players like Lwazi Mvovo (sidelined in Durban for a fish-out-of-water and short-lived wing, Jesse Kriel) and Rudy Paige (an infamous, lousy three minutes off the bench in the World Cup hangover game against the Pumas).

Oops, does all this sound prematurely like my personal summary of the “Meyer era” before it has even officially come to a close?

Perhaps that should only further demonstrate how solidly I surmise that a change is in the fast-approaching Saru courier bag.

It will not be too difficult contractually to pull Coetzee clear of his deal with Kobelco Steelers in Japan, and the 52-year-old would jump at the chance – I don’t think his salary wishes would be fatally exorbitant – to take the head-coach reins of South Africa after being an assistant in the RWC-winning 2007 set-up.

He knows the domestic landscape as well as anybody after eight years at Newlands, including six at the helm of the Stormers in Super Rugby.

For the best part of his tenure, they were the toughest South African nuts to crack, in a climate increasingly unfavourable to any of our teams winning the overall title because of the inevitable, damaging outflow annually of seasoned players to stronger club currencies in the northern hemisphere.

Somehow our Super Rugby teams always seem to be rebuilding, but Coetzee would not necessarily be hamstrung by that particular problem at Bok level as certain high-calibre, overseas-based players will probably continue – unless there is a sudden, severe policy change – to be on call for the green-and-gold cause.

On the other, far from unimportant side of the age-related spectrum, “Toetie” is an established ace at unleashing -- and quickly empowering, and making feel at ease -- young players.

That would be important at a time when the Boks are shedding truckloads of once-core personnel to international retirement or at least near-retirement.

His public relations and media comfort is well-known, whilst a second Bok coach of colour in three appointments would help underline Saru’s commitment to transformation.

Coetzee’s recent Capetonian residency (even if his own sporting roots are firmly in the Eastern Cape) is not without relevance: in the uniquely complex landscape in which the Bok coach operates, his close proximity to the administrative HQ a lot of the time would be at worst “handy”.

Speaking of Saru, my understanding is that they would want firm assurances on – and an intended helpful hand in – any future coach’s attack ideology.

It is an area where Coetzee has, often with justification, raised eyebrows but a fitting amount of intellectual nous and energy from assistants and consultants under his likely regime could circumvent that becoming a vexing area for the Boks all over again.    

My understanding of the inbound flight of Allister Coetzee toward the Springbok job is that it has picked up dramatic speed in a pretty short time. It seems almost irresistible.

Watch this space.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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