Bok coach faces big calls

The new Springbok coach will have some crucial decisions to make regarding the appointment of his management team and captain over the next two months, writes JON CARDINELLI.

It’s believed that Johan Ackermann has signed a contract extension with the Lions. Since taking the reins in 2013, Ackermann has transformed the Johannesburg-based side into a unit that can win as well as entertain. It’s not hard to understand why the Lions value Ackermann so greatly, or why several overseas clubs want the crack coach among their ranks.

Of course, the timing of the revelation has a bearing on the Springbok coach debate. Ackermann’s commitment to the Lions means he will not serve on the Bok coaching staff. And so, the Boks' loss is the Lions' gain.

SA Rugby will hold a meeting on Friday to determine, among other things, who will ascend to the position of ultimate responsibility. Allister Coetzee has been the favourite to succeed Heyneke Meyer ever since the Boks returned from a disappointing 2015 World Cup campaign. It will come as no surprise if Coetzee is unveiled in the wake of the meeting on Friday.

Indeed, there are more interesting questions that will follow the appointment, such as who will assist Coetzee in preparing the Boks for the three-Test series against Ireland, and who will lead the national team. Even at this late stage, there is little certainty about those positions and, unfortunately, very few quality candidates.

It’s believed that Coetzee has already sounded out his former assistant coaches at the Stormers, Matt Proudfoot and Robbie Fleck, about the possibility of joining the Bok set-up. They are men who share his playing philosophy and men he trusts. With a little over two months between his appointment and the Boks’ first Test on 11 June, Coetzee will be inclined to stick to a familiar formula.

And yet it is a management team that will inspire no confidence in the long term. Coetzee, Proudfoot and Fleck enjoyed a good league record at Super Rugby level for six seasons. Their limitations as a coaching team were, however, routinely exposed whenever the Stormers reached the playoffs.

And so, the question should be asked if these three are given the green light to collaborate at national level: do they have the necessary skills to prevail in the Test environment? Their one from five record in Super Rugby playoffs suggests not.

There is still some uncertainty regarding Rassie Erasmus’s future role with SA Rugby. Nevertheless, it would be to the national side’s benefit if Erasmus joined Coetzee at the Boks.

Erasmus is one of the most innovative and technically astute coaches in world rugby, the kind of coach you’d want in your corner when you’re up against the likes of Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Wayne Smith. The Boks will need a coach with the X factor when they play against the All Blacks later this year.

Contrary to popular belief, the Boks weren’t a complete failure under Meyer between 2012 and 2015. There were times when their attack triumphed against a much vaunted All Blacks defence (a point that was made by the All Blacks coaches themselves in the latter stages of the 2014 and 2015 Rugby Championship tournaments). Johann van Graan was responsible for the attack under Meyer, and is set to continue in some capacity under Coetzee. 

With regard to the captaincy, every incoming coach has more or less agreed about the requirements. The new captain has to be deserving of his starting place. He must command respect. He must be an extension of the coach on the field.

One cannot think of a better candidate than Duane Vermeulen. That he is playing club rugby for Toulon in Europe should not be an issue.

Vermeulen has been among the best loose forwards in world rugby for the past three years. Meyer marked him as a future Springbok captain. Coetzee commended the man’s leadership skills while working with him at the Stormers. Vermeulen led the Cape side in 2015.

The appointment of the Bok captain, particularly at the beginning of a four-year cycle, is never to be taken lightly. That said, Vermeulen ticks all the boxes as a player and leader. This should be one of the easier decisions that Coetzee has to make in the lead-up to the series against Ireland.

Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

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