The Springboks’ record defeat to the All Blacks at Kings Park proved that the coaching staff as well as the South African system needs to change sooner rather than later, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Remember the days when South Africa-New Zealand clashes used to be somewhat competitive? Between 2004 and 2015, the Boks won just nine of their 28 Tests against the All Blacks. They did, however, manage to win seven of the 14 matches in South Africa during that period. In 14 of those 28 games the difference between the teams was 10 points or fewer.
It may not seem like much to shout about when viewed in isolation. But when one considers where the Boks are in 2016 after two humiliating defeats to the All Blacks, matches that witnessed as many as 98 points and 15 tries put past Allister Coetzee’s charges, one can see how much the standards have dropped in the space of 12 months.
Indeed, almost exactly a year ago, people were giving Heyneke Meyer stick for losing to the All Blacks by two points in the World Cup semi-final. The disappointment that followed that narrow defeat showed that South African rugby people still had ambition. They would not be satisfied with any defeat, even one by a two-point margin.
Jake White, Peter de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer all clashed with administrators over issues like player management and transformation during their respective tenures as Bok coach. They all spoke out against a South African system that serves the interests of the respective franchises and unions rather than those of the national team.
Coetzee has made a point of praising New Zealand’s central contracting system many times over the past six months. South Africa do not possess the same structures, and so Coetzee has inferred that the Bok coach is always going to be limited in terms of developing the players' tactical kicking and aerial skills as well as their conditioning.
It’s a backward system that makes no sense for a country that demands high standards of its national team. Not enough is done at franchise level, from the development of core skills to player management to transformation, to ensure the Boks have what they need to achieve their goals on the Test stage.
But make no mistake, the class of 2016 has failed to meet even the most modest of expectations. And for that, Coetzee and his coaching staff must take some of the blame. After all, the Bok coach’s predecessors faced similar challenges during their respective tenures at the helm.
What the past six months have shown is that Coetzee is not the man to steer the Boks through some admittedly troubled waters. The make-up of his coaching staff has also been exposed during this period, and the stats confirm that the Boks have regressed in just about every department.
Coetzee’s Boks have managed to win 44% of their matches this season. That record has included inaugural losses to Ireland at home and to Argentina away.
The 41-13 defeat to the All Blacks in Christchurch was the Boks’ heaviest in five years, that was until they went down 57-15 to New Zealand in Durban. The latter result was another for the record books, marking the Boks’ worst-ever loss in South Africa and the heaviest-ever defeat to the All Blacks.
To say the South African system is completely to blame is a cop out. While I would agree that it requires immediate revision, and while I believe that the coaching indaba later this month is a good idea in theory, I just don’t believe that the Boks are going to make any progress if the national coaching staff remains as is.
We all knew what we were getting when Coetzee was appointed as head coach in April. After competing in the 2010 Super Rugby final, the Stormers stagnated under Coetzee’s leadership in the ensuing five years. They failed to take their game forward, and were routinely exposed in big playoff matches.
After every big loss, Coetzee moved to assure the media and public that there was a greater plan at work, and that patience was needed if the Stormers were going to break through that mental barrier. Fittingly, his time at the Cape franchise ended with a 20-point defeat to the Brumbies in a playoff at Newlands.
As Bok coach, Coetzee has done well to make excuses and offer similar assurances in the wake of every loss. And yet, how do you defend a 42-point defeat to the All Blacks at home?
When your team is so obviously outplayed and your are so patently outcoached, where do you go to from there? Even the most faithful of Bok supporters will be reluctant to believe that this side is on the right path following a display that was as naive as it was impotent.
The South African system needs to change, but so too does the coaching staff. Coetzee has a four-year contract and it may be difficult for SA Rugby to dismiss him at this stage. By Coetzee’s own admission, he does have the power to bring in consultants and alter his coaching staff with the aim of achieving better results.
It would be remiss of Coetzee if he did not make changes before the end-of-year tour to Europe. The Bok set piece has functioned well this season, but their breakdown skills and performances at the collisions have been lacking.
This should come as no surprise when one remembers that their scrum coach also doubles as the breakdown coach, and that Matt Proudfoot is a specialist in the former rather than the latter. The Boks need more help if they are to develop their contact skills.
In terms of defence, there has to be a change. I keep hearing that Chean Roux didn’t appoint himself, and that he deserves some sympathy and understanding given this is his first year coaching defence at the highest level. The fact of the matter is the Boks need an experienced defence coach in place, even more so given the dearth of experience in the backline.
Kicking coach Louis Koen rejoined the squad in the buildup to the Test against the Wallabies in Pretoria. On the basis of the two performances against the Wallabies and All Blacks, the Boks will need more than two weeks to address their tactical kicking woes.
People are quick to criticise the attack and highlight the fact that the Boks have scored just one try in their last three matches. While the decision-making and execution has been shocking at times, one also needs to appreciate how the failure of the defence and tactical kickers impacts on a team’s ability to attack effectively.
Ultimately, the buck stops with Coetzee. The results and performances of the past six months confirm that he has added nothing to the Boks. The team has regressed in 2016, and now faces a fight to finish the season with a 50% win record.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images
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