Bok coaching saga: SA Rugby should also cop flak

Allister Coetzee (Gallo)
Allister Coetzee (Gallo)

Johannesburg - The response to Allister Coetzee’s page-turning 19-page letter to SA Rugby has highlighted everything that is right and wrong with our rugby.

Ironically, the indignant nature of most of the reactions - including an open letter probably penned by a career under-performer among us telling the former Springbok coach it was good riddance he left - was a good thing because it shows how deeply the rugby public cares.

But quite how Coetzee’s employers got away with barely any criticism for their part in a coaching tenure that frankly became a mess, simply because they parted ways with the Bok coach this week was in line with the thinking of many, beggars belief.

SA Rugby started all the trouble by not following any discernible process - apart from being rumoured to have texted Coetzee the offer when he was coaching in Japan - when replacing Heyneke Meyer.

With hindsight - and Coetzee’s allegation that SA Rugby wanted new director of rugby Rassie Erasmus as head coach all along - few decisions screamed expedience more than the half-hearted effort that was put into hiring the newly departed Bok coach.

That mistake was compounded by their allegedly having Erasmus, who can’t seem to shake the idea that he left for Ireland in a huff because he didn’t get the Bok coaching job, wait in the wings in case Coetzee faltered.

Quite how that wasn’t supposed to raise Coetzee’s paranoia levels a notch and have him think the fix is in every time SA Rugby denied a request of his is difficult to fathom. If Coetzee’s appointment was expedient, Erasmus’ return from Munster was disingenuous.

We were told he was only coming as director of rugby, but the end of this month, when SA Rugby is supposed to announce Coetzee’s replacement, will tell us whether that was truthful. Chances are, we’ll be told Coetzee’s e-mail meltdown forced their hand, but I guess all’s well that ends well.

This is far from a spirited defence of Coetzee’s tenure. Like many, I happen to believe that SA Rugby was well within its rights to dismiss him. There are 44 (Coetzee’s percentage win in two years in charge) reasons Coetzee had to walk the plank.

With the exception of when he started in 2016, or the brief flurry when his team bullied weak French and Argentine sides last year, at no point did it look like Coetzee would take the Boks to the World Cup and win it.

There were many reasons for that, but the fact that he was not a decisive leader and his failure to advance the transformation cause were the two that stuck out for me.

With regards to transformation, forget Lukhanyo Am et al not getting a fair shake at chances they’d earned. The clincher for me was Coetzee preferring Eben Etzebeth, an experienced player but no captain, to Siya Kolisi, a true leader, when replacing Warren Whiteley simply because of his own fears of what the reaction might be from rugby’s supposed traditional public.

At this juncture, I probably need to make it clear that I have nothing against Erasmus. Having watched him sensationally win the Cheetahs their first Currie Cup title in 29 years in 2005 in his first year as head coach, I have no doubt that he can only make a meaningful contribution to our rugby.

My only gripe is the lack of accountability that masquerades as governance at SA Rugby. I’ve also been intrigued by the parochialism that has been shown by us media in reporting Coetzee’s lengthy missive to his bosses.

Instead of interrogating some of his claims, like the constructive dismissal charge he levelled against chief executive Jurie Roux, we only chose to report on the things that interested our communal pockets - which suggest the problems go further than just SA Rugby.

As desperate as we are to see a more assured, less boring and more forward-thinking Bok team, the back-slapping at Coetzee’s departure is a bit premature when it’s clear that a massive part of the problem remains behind - again.

Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

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