Cape Town – Allister Coetzee, whose dissatisfaction with SA Rugby over aspects of his tottering Springbok coaching job has been increasingly publicised of late, was far from unique on that front.
The majority of the post-isolation Bok coaches have had significant, fiery run-ins or at very least differences of opinion on policy and resources with their employers along the way – or at a violent end of the road, in some instances -- in what is widely acknowledged as one of the toughest posts in world rugby.
Provincialism, political intrigue, transformation requirements, deeper financial constraints than most other top-tier countries, the ever-swelling exodus of players to more attractive climes financially … all of those come on top of the South African public being more insistent and impatient than most for triumphs by the national team at every turn.
All of those not inconsiderable hurdles also do little to spark any special sympathy, I would argue, for Coetzee’s broad insistence that he was “set up to fail” by some in the corridors of power and that factors beyond his control have played a major part in his statistical under-delivery – 44 percent win record – over the past two years.
In short, if you are a Springbok coach you know plenty of the hazards you are in for, and a firm stomach is an essential prerequisite even before you get into the tracksuit.
Latest revelations from his lengthy letter recently to SARU chief executive Jurie Roux – clearly already well aware that his hold on the post has become extremely fragile – hone in on the fact that Coetzee appears to feel hard done by when compared to his immediate predecessor Heyneke Meyer.
The letter includes a specific panel where he highlights areas he considers he was disadvantaged in, in direct relation to Meyer, who held the post for a four-year term between 2012 and 2015 inclusive.
A pivotal one, of course, is that Coetzee had greatly less say in the composition of his back-up team (only long-time Newlands ally Matt Proudfoot cut his own, truly enthusiastic nod) than Meyer did.
But isn’t that also simply a sign that Coetzee might have been more assertive, more insistent, over support staff right at the outset? Indeed, why did he sign so readily on the dotted line while knowing that his lieutenants weren’t universally recipients of his personal blessing?
Most of the best coaches or managers in team sport, after all, set out their visions in the most forceful, passionate of terms, and do everything they can to ensure they get the vast majority of assistants they want, from day one.
Coetzee also bemoans being hamstrung by a lack of some of the second-tier, if you like, support personnel Meyer – apparently, anyway – enjoyed.
He is quite entitled, of course, to raise with Roux the very minutest of factors he believes impeded his duties … but it is also doubtful whether many public observers will be too taken in by the now known beef from “Toetie” that (presumably budget-conscious) cuts saw him either stripped of or curtailed in the use of people like psychologists or breakdown consultants Meyer was able to tap into.
Similarly, just how much better might the Boks have been in Coetzee’s bumpy first two years, for example, if he had had a “massage therapist” at his beck and call rather than seeing such person’s “services discontinued”, as he put it?
There is a good case for venturing that inertia or lack of enterprise in selection from the head coach probably went considerably further than a lack of soothing hands or oils on a treatment table in explaining the wholly unsatisfactory results achieved by the once-superpower Boks for much of both 2016 and 2017.
It is also not exactly a secret that, in his own tenure – more than 70 percent win percentage in his first two years, almost 67 in total – Meyer ran into financial or other constraints to his intentions reasonably often.
He was also frustrated by the gulf he felt existed, earlier in the same year of the 2015 World Cup campaign (where SA nevertheless ended bronze medallists), between conditioning standards at franchise and international level.
Meyer, a particularly devoted, near-neurotic planner, long held a conviction that the Boks would have benefited from an incoming tour that year – there wasn’t one -- as well as a few weeks’ extra prep-time for his charges and a stronger license to judiciously rest core players in his squad in the lead-up to the English-hosted event.
With a bit of a tweak to the words of the Rolling Stones, you can’t (well, don’t) always get what you want.
Messrs De Villiers, White, Mallett, others in the post-isolation Springbok saga … Coetzee hasn’t been alone in his varying levels of friction with the blokes in ties and cufflinks.
When all is said and done, his dangerously low win record is what will be used (and widely accepted) as the ammunition that triggers his quite inevitable exit.
Coetzee’s still a good rugby man, with much left to offer the first-class scene.
He just didn’t cut it for the country, despite generous enough opportunity, actually …
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