The shambolic Springbok performance against Ireland as well as Allister Coetzee’s post-match statements regarding the coaching team’s inferiority should be read as a cry for help, writes JON CARDINELLI.
‘It’s a terrible place to be,’ Francois Louw said of the Boks’ situation following the 35-point defeat in Dublin on Saturday. One got the feeling that he was completely disgusted with himself and his teammates after yet another inadequate physical and tactical showing.
Coetzee’s Boks continue to make history for all the wrong reasons. The 2016 season witnessed inaugural losses to Ireland and Italy, a first-ever away defeat to Argentina, a then-record loss to the All Blacks, and the heaviest defeat to Wales. Overall, the Boks won 33% of their matches in what was their worst season to date.
For all the talk of progress in 2017, Coetzee’s charges find themselves in a position where they’ve lost 57-0 to the All Blacks in Albany and 38-3 to Ireland – another record defeat – in the space of two months.
The Boks are in a hole, and if the comments made by Coetzee and Louw in the wake of the Dublin debacle are any indicator, they lack the means to get out of it.
One wonders how many more of these ‘worst-defeat ever’ scenarios we will have to endure before those in charge – read Coetzee’s bosses at SA Rugby – realise that significant changes are needed to the coaching staff and to the team itself.
It’s easy to forget that the All Blacks went into that game in Albany without several frontline players. Ben Smith was missing, as was Israel Dagg, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks and Joe Moody. The All Blacks still managed to put eight tries past the Boks.
Ireland went into the recent game against the Boks without Jamie Heaslip, Jared Payne, Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and a few more who may have vied for bench positions. Joe Schmidt was forced to hand Bundee Aki a Test debut at No 12 and pick two inexperienced wingers. Ireland still managed to score four tries and 38 points against South Africa.
Coetzee is stating the obvious when he says that Steve Hansen and Schmidt outsmarted him and his coaching team on those occasions. He is being economical with the truth, however, when he suggests that the Boks were beaten by settled teams with experience across the board, teams with fewer injury concerns that those of his own team.
Could the Boks have put a better side on the park in Dublin? If one accepts that Coetzee has to select from the 34-man group on tour, then the answer is no. Perhaps the Boks would have been more competitive if Handré Pollard started ahead of Elton Jantjies – who looks less and less like a Test-standard flyhalf with every outing.
But then Coetzee got his selections wrong before the Boks even boarded the plane for Europe. The decision to travel to the northern hemisphere with such an inexperienced group made no sense. Whether Raymond Rhule or Dillyn Leyds wore the No 14 shirt in Dublin, Coetzee was always going to be in a position where he had to field a back-three with zero experience of playing Test rugby in wet and heavy underfoot conditions.
Why was Jan Serfontein allowed a leave of absence? Why were World Cup-winners Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen overlooked? Why was Duane Vermeulen not brought into the squad after proving his fitness for his club Toulon?
The management and in some cases the ongoing snub of players based in Europe is not helping the national side. The policy of selecting a team comprised largely of local players isn’t helping either.
Where is this Boks side going? Ireland are likely to meet the Boks in a 2019 World Cup quarter-final. Based on what we saw on Saturday, Schmidt’s team will have every reason to believe that they can bully and kick on the Boks in that fixture, just as they did on a memorable night in Dublin two years previously.
Schmidt’s assurances that the Boks are on the right track and that the coaching staff is world class are hard to take seriously. Johann van Graan, one of the more valuable members of the team, will be taking up a post with Munster after the Test in France next week. Defence coach Brendan Venter won’t be available when the Boks travel to Italy thereafter. Whether Coetzee stays or goes before 2019, the selfsame coaching staff won’t be at the World Cup.
There’s been no information forthcoming about possible replacements, indeed no sign that Coetzee himself knows what he’s going to do when Van Graan and Venter are elsewhere. When pushed, Coetzee confirmed that he and new director or rugby Rassie Erasmus will only meet in the new year.
If sanity prevailed, Erasmus would join the coaching staff in the lead-up to the match against France. Players like Vermeulen – who has declared himself fit and available – Steyn and several others would inject some much-needed experience and tactical intelligence into the squad.
Those changes wouldn’t solve all of the Boks’ problems, but they would see the side moving in the right direction.
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