Craig Lewis

SA rugby must move forward

Allister Coetzee following the Boks' historic loss to New Zealand in 2017 Allister Coetzee following the Boks' historic loss to New Zealand in 2017

Allister Coetzee’s axing was inevitable and overdue, but the real work starts now, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

South African rugby’s worst-kept secret was officially confirmed on Friday as the axe fell on Allister Coetzee following a two-year period of underperformance from the Springboks. It didn’t take long for social media to react, and it would be fair to say that the common sentiment was one of ‘good riddance’.

It’s understandable when one considers some of the horror results that have been painfully endured in recent times, and one way or another, SA Rugby must receive some credit for finally having the gumption to take decisive action, albeit a year too late.

The fact is that there weren’t many who quibbled with Coetzee’s appointment back in 2016, and there's no doubt that he had a desperate desire to be successful, but good intentions alone are not enough. It was clear by the end of 2016 that Coetzee was out of his depth, and last year was so simply a case of treading water without really going anywhere.

It led SA Rugby to finally pull the plug, but now the Boks have to once again start with a clean slate.

SA Rugby's statement on Friday suggested that the national team’s coaching and management group for 2018 will be confirmed before the end of February, but there’s little to no chance that Coetzee’s assistants Matt Proudfoot and Brendan Venter will continue in their roles.

Franco Smith has received an offer to relocate closer to SA Rugby’s headquarters in Cape Town in order to remain part of the Bok coaching setup, but it may be difficult for him to uproot from Bloemfontein.

What’s clearer is that Erasmus will be joined by right-hand men Jacques Nienaber and Pieter de Villiers in a coaching mobi-unit of sorts, while Mzwandile Stick is also expected to have a role reprised with the national team.

Stick was present at the recent launch of the SA Rugby Academy along with Erasmus, who fronted up to the media and insisted that the streamlining of structures in South African rugby could lead to an expedited turn around for the Springboks.

READ: Rassie opens up on Boks

From Erasmus’ initial musings, it’s clear that he will prioritise key areas in South African rugby such as:

  • Cooperation, communication and collaboration with SA's franchises
  • Player management and welfare
  • Meticulous planning that extends beyond the Test windows

By the looks of it, what should work in Erasmus’ favour is the fact that he appears to have the full buy-in and support from the powers-that-be in South African rugby. Coetzee has already made it very clear that he felt he never had this, but there is ultimately little defence for the abysmal results that the Springboks have endured under his watch.

One can only hope that there is still enough remaining goodwill for some of Coetzee’s grievances to be heard, and certain lessons to be learned about where things went wrong, because make no mistake, SA Rugby is also complicit in some of the Springboks’ failings.

In a series of Tweets following Coetzee’s axing,  his close ally – Venter – did make one very good point: 'My final plea [to] all parties. Put your pride away. Sit around the table like sensible rugby men and talk rugby. Ask Allister what he would have done differently. Learn from it. He is a good man and a good coach. All everybody wants is the Boks to be dominant again. Good luck.'

READ: ‘Boks could have won 11 out of 13’

SA Rugby will now desperately hope that they have found their rugby messiah in Erasmus, who is innovative, intelligent and proactive. He is steadfast in his beliefs, and has all the necessary experience to initiate a much-needed Springbok revival.

Erasmus insists that plenty of important work has already been productively completed. However, he will also know only too well that the real challenges lie in wait as he now moves into the high-pressured Bok top job that has got the better of so many before him. After all, Coetzee is just the latest in a long line of coaches who have rapidly gone from prince to pauper.

Rassie, over to you. Good luck indeed.

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

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