Johan Ackermann must be backed to lead the Springboks in a new direction from 2017, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Enough is enough. In a matter of months, Springbok rugby has plummeted into an unmitigated crisis. It’s been a year that has already seen historic defeats suffered against Ireland, Argentina, New Zealand, England and now Italy.
The South African rugby system is broken. Allister Coetzee belatedly stepped on board a Springbok vessel that has been sinking since June, and as the ‘captain’ at the helm, he ultimately has to go down with the ship.
There is one more game to go before the Boks’ season from hell comes to an end, but whatever the outcome, there can be simply no justification for the coaching status quo to remain unchanged.
Coetzee has to make way for someone who can breathe new life into the Boks, and that man has to be Ackermann.
Realistically, there is no overseas saviour who would be willing to jet into South Africa to save the Springboks. This is not a fix-it job that can be outsourced to a potentially ‘free agent’ such as former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.
The Springbok coaching gig is surely the toughest in world sport, and it’s a poisoned chalice position that has been exacerbated by inept decision-makers in SA Rugby’s upper hierarchy. More than ever, we’ve seen the guy in the top job ultimately set up to fail.
Shockingly, it’s now a job that not many will want. The demands and politics are surely too intense for any international candidate to be willing to muddy his hands with – particularly considering that SA Rugby certainly is not in a position to wave an open cheque book at a top candidate.
SA Rugby has to look internally, and they shouldn’t look any further than Ackermann. Lest we forget, the former Springbok stalwart took up the head coaching job at the Lions when the Johannesburg franchise was in its own state of crisis.
At the time, John Mitchell was ultimately forced to vacate his post after an internal player uprising against him, with chaos reigning both on and off the pitch for the Lions.
Undeterred, Ackermann stepped into the breach. With a clear vision in mind, he settled on building a new philosophy at the Lions, while being brave enough to advocate an ambitious new brand of rugby, and to select a squad of players that could be capable of enforcing this plan.
Beyond that, Ackermann won back the change room. By all accounts, the coach is an incredible player-manager who quickly won the immense respect of all the players. At the start of his tenure, he took the team away on a culture camp where they outlined their goals for the future. He asked the players to get on board, and assured them he would continue to back them if they did.
At first, there was no immediate gratification as the Lions continued to struggle for consistent results, but Ackermann and his coaching staff refused to backtrack on their convictions.
They remained steadfast in the belief that they were on the right track, and this year we saw the Lions reap the rewards as they emerged as the top South African side in Super Rugby and progressed all the way to the final.
This is not to suggest that Ackermann should just be handed the Bok job so that the national team can replicate the Lions’ way. Realistically, it’s not a style of play that can be copy and pasted at Test level, and far more balance would need to be added.
However, Ackermann is the sort of man who would command respect from the South African players. He is open and honest, and would come in with clear convictions about the way he believed the Boks should play going forward. He would provide clarity around this vision and share it with the players and public so that everyone knows where they stand.
At the end of the day, the Springboks need an imposing, forthright and decisive leader at the helm. Ackermann needs to be entrusted with this role sooner rather than later. He needs time to formulate the way forward and to identify the correct coaches and players that can help him enforce this vision. His time is now.
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