Springboks year in review, possible causes and the way forward

Allister Coetzee (Getty Images)
Allister Coetzee (Getty Images)

Played 13, won 4 (Barbarians match included). Welcome to the worst year in Springbok history.

I would like to apologise in advance for subjecting all Bok fans (the few that are left) to a reminder of the horrendous season under Allister Coetzee and team, but we can only move forward if we learn from the past. As the saying goes: “If we don’t learn from past mistakes, we are bound to repeat them”. That being said, I feel that all is not lost and the doom and gloom that we have all experienced, can most certainly be lifted come 2017. Yes there is still hope but only if certain aspects of South African rugby are fixed and fixed quickly!  

Ireland series:

It was supposed to be the dawn of a new era. Yes some were sceptical but most fans looked forward to Coetzee’s debut season with zest and excitement. It was the first steps toward World Cup glory in 2019. Little did fans know what was to follow. Ireland somehow fashioned their first ever victory on Springbok soil, even after playing most of the first match with 14 men. If this wasn’t a danger sign then I don’t know what is. The Boks fought back admirably in the next two games to come back from the dead and take the series but this was imply due to a depleted, injury-ravaged Irish team. No problem, the worst was yet to come!

Rugby Championship:

The team began with a lucky victory against the Pumas but it was downhill from there. In another historic first, the boys lost their first ever game on Argentinian soil, followed by losses to the Wallabies and All Blacks down under. By now it was already clear that Coetzee had no game plan, consistent team selection or any sort of tactical nous. In what was to be the final win of the year, the team beat a poor Australian outfit in a truly scrappy affair at Loftus. The way Coetzee celebrated this win should have given us an indicator for the next match in which we suffered one of our biggest losses of all time to the All Blacks in a ‘men vs boys practice match’.

Outgoing tour:

The defiant Coetzee still had hope of a ‘new beginning’ (8 months into the job) yet couldn’t even beat a make-shift Barbarians team. He finally included the like of Rohan Janse van Rensburg but again baffled with selection policies when naming the match day 23 for the England game, where the Boks threw away their ten year unbeaten run against Eddie Jones’ charges. They say winning is a habit but so is losing and this was proven by yes, yet another shambolic first against Italy. No matter what political issues, player resources or off-field drama was circling the team, there can be zero excuse for not beating Italy. Any Bok coach worth his salt would never lose to Italy! This was the match that exposed Coetzee and his coaching team to the fullest and made all fans state that they had finally had enough. The tour was rounded off with, wait for it ... another loss (to Wales).

Possible causes:

The most obvious cause to this dire situation has to be Coetzee himself. The rot in SA rugby seeps far deeper than hiring and firing a coach but he gets paid the big bucks and should take responsibility. Another year of him will be disastrous. The guy is a decent coach at lower levels and a nice person overall but being a Bok coach comes with great responsibility and is not for the feint-hearted.  If Coetzee truly cares about the Springbok brand and indeed his own reputation then he will do the honourable thing and resign, instead of waiting for the sword to fall. Other causes include the assistant coaching staff – the entire lot of them. Adding the likes of Franco Smit to the staff for the year-end tour proved the inadequacies of the coaching team. Sadly I have to once again play the dreaded ‘politics card’ but it has to be said. Respected pundits such as Nick Mallet talk about every other negative aspect but are afraid to even mention this particular one. Other causes of the recent Bok demise include a total lack of a game-plan (talk about an identity crisis), inconsistent team selection (Jake White identified his preferred starting XV from week one and more or less stuck with this for four years), over-reliance on aging players past their prime (JP, Bryan, Beast, Strauss) and the selection of a poor leader (Duane Vermeulen or Handre Pollard to the rescue?) who was on the edge of retirement any way. I personally do not blame conditioning (a true cop-out) nor the players themselves, as I feel we have great talent who are simply not coached properly. Neither do I blame the talent drain (the 300+ players outside of the country), as we have enough resources at home. Remember, the likes of Marcell Coetzee, Vermeulen and Pollard could make a major impact upon return. It was a blessing in disguise that they were not subjected to playing for the Boks in 2016.

Way forward:

It is unclear what the near future holds but one thing that is certain is that Coetzee and his team must fall! This is probably our best short-term solution. The official review promised by SA Rugby President Mark Alexander is unnecessary - the results will be fairly obvious don’t you think? We need a brand new coaching unit who can steer our superb talent. Implement this and the causes outlined above will by default be taken care off (game-plan, selection, ‘what to do with the ball’ etc.). The biggest question is who takes over the poisoned chalice? My advice would be to bring back Jake White whose contract with Montpellier is strangely close to ending. He is a way better and much more experienced tactician than he was in 2007 and he should be allowed the freedom to choose his own assistants (can Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber be lured back, pray tell?), provide him with unlimited support and remove any political interference (wow, easier said than done). A foreign and thus objective coach, given free reign, may also just work. Let us simply play to our traditional strengths and back youngsters to build up caps. However, while this is happening, SA Rugby needs to get their structures and plans in place for the future, from central contracting to the privatisation of franchises and getting all Super rugby teams on board to follow one blue-print. More indabas won’t hurt either.

I have no doubt that with the right personnel and plans in place, Bok rugby could be right back up there competing with the All Blacks and Italy (laughs) again. Sadly though, no matter what happens in the future, irreparable damage to the brand has already been done.  

Dhirshan Gobind is a respected freelance sports columnist/writer/blogger. He has columns in ‘The Post’, ‘Galaxy News’ , has written for ‘Cricket South Africa’ and writes regular opinion columns on Sport24. Email: dhirshg@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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