Johannesburg - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee may have silenced some of his critics with the last two performances in winning the Incoming Tours Test series against France, but he is definitely not at all at a point where he is satisfied with the outcome.
According to the SuperSport website, Coetzee has been firm in not discussing the horrible 2016 season, and has shut down questions in comparison to that time, repeating the mantra that “the door is closed”, and would rather focus on looking ahead than backwards as he tries to rebuild the Springbok brand with the help of a revamped management team.
The move to back locally-based players has paid off in the opening two Tests and if the team can repeat the feat this coming weekend in the third Test at Ellis Park for a series whitewash, it will be a firm signal the Springboks are on their way back.
And while nobody is talking about the Rugby Championship or the All Blacks yet, but rather of small steps forward as a team in building the team again, there is a marked difference in terms of intensity and commitment in the side, both on the field and in their training.
Coetzee’s handling of the situation this year has been chalk and cheese to last season, where he was appointed six weeks before the season starts, handed a management team and made several missteps in the process. In 2017, thanks to three camps, a week in Plettenberg Bay and some meticulous planning, the Boks have been dominant in both Test matches against France thus far.
As Coetzee says, it is a start, but the coach deserves credit for the turnaround, especially if he must take criticism when the team are defeated.
Coetzee is happy with the start, calling it a “good first step” but knows his team needs to become a lot more clinical if they are to challenge the bigger sides in world rugby and return the Springboks to a place at the top of the Rugby world.
The Bok coach was surprised when he was asked if he felt he had silenced some critics, choosing to rather focus on the positives, the turnaround and the way forward in determining the team’s future.
“I don’t worry about that, I don’t have critics,” he said. “There is only one person’s approval I will ever want and that is the Almighty’s approval. Everything else is irrelevant.
“My job, I’ve got a four year contract with SA Rugby until 2019, and a national coach knows when he signs this thing, that he is judged on a few things, and I’m happy that 2016 is dead and buried now. We’ve moved on and it is great to see what is happening now. It is not to prove anyone (wrong) but it is to make sure our hard work is paying off at the moment.
“Yes mistakes were made but it is the ability to rectify those mistakes and the ability to set them right. That is what is happening here, we have a great team environment, fantastic leadership group and a great captain and a willingness that everyone has bought into the plan. It is looking good. Honestly like I said eight months ago, people booed us off the field, on the very same field the players got a standing ovation. A lot of credit must go into the players for unselfishly buying into our system, our value system and creating this environment.”
And the environment has been a huge part of the turnaround, with the Boks adopting a caring culture within the side, and players setting the boundaries themselves. While this might seem a bit self-explanatory and normal, it must be remembered there was little time to plan in 2016 and even less to form a team culture. And while a lot of credit must go to the revamped management team, captain Warren Whiteley and the senior player group have played a major part.
Coetzee said he wasn’t surprised at the reliance on home-based players paid off so well. The success in the opening two Tests must be translated further into results, but on the basis of the opening two games, the days of bringing in overseas players en masse may well be over.
The Bok coach added that the planning was the real difference, and good planning was probably the team’s biggest asset thus far.
“No I’m not surprised at all, it is just that our home-based players had enough time to prepare, coming from their franchises and with habits that they’ve had for the last 8-12 weeks and into international season without having those camps is always going to be tough.
“But now you had three camps and a week in Plettenberg Bay where you can change those habits and make sure the players understand the plan. We were really good in preparation and it was key. We knew this French side really, really well and we looked at the club competition, we looked at the Clermont and Toulon players. We did our homework well and those sort of plans could have been put in place at the camps already.
“Our home-based players have performed well. I rewarded form, I rewarded good decision-makers and it really showed.”
The Boks will want to keep the foot on the pedal on Saturday to complete the job. A victory will cap a decent return to action for the Boks and ensure they have laid the groundwork for greater challenges to come.