Bok job presents Coetzee dilemma

Allister Coetzee’s capability to expand the Springbok game is set to be the major reason for reservations around his suitability to succeed coach Heyneke Meyer, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Saru will announce its decision on the future of the Bok coach and management team in January. By all accounts, public sentiment suggests that Meyer’s departure would not be lamented for long. Yet, the major question that is often overlooked amidst calls for Meyer’s axing revolves around the suitability of available successors.

Unlike many of the Boks’ northern hemisphere rivals, appointing a ‘local’ coach to lead the national side appears to remain a priority rather than a preference.

After all, understanding the Bok culture and the intricate dynamics of South African rugby has often proven to be a poisoned chalice. It takes a brave man to accept the job, and it’s the reason why there are numerous examples where coaches make decisions that appear to be in conflict with their character as the pressure begins to cloud their judgement.

Various statements, actions and decisions made by Meyer this year certainly stand in contrast to proclamations and promises made at different times during his tenure. A year that held so much promise has ultimately turned into a season of disillusionment at Springbok level, and it’s the reason why Meyer’s days appear to be numbered.

Yet none of his assistants would be contenders to take over the top job, while a look at the head coaches at the South African Super Rugby franchises only really leaves the Lions’ Johan Ackermann as a potential candidate. His time will surely be in another four years, though, once he’s gained further experience and comprehensively proven his coaching credentials.

It leaves Coetzee as one of the few really viable candidates, and his Japanese club, the Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers, will not stand in his way should he be chosen as Meyer’s successor.

Three short years ago, when Coetzee led the Stormers to a log-topping finish in Vodacom Super Rugby, and then on to Currie Cup success, many felt he was the next Bok coach in waiting.

Coetzee was credited with turning the Stormers and Western Province into a competitive title-contending force once again, and when he left for Japan earlier this year, he did so with three SA conference titles and two Currie Cup winner's medals. His transformation record was also beyond reproach.

And yet the Stormers’ game had clearly begun to stagnate, with a defence-based approach becoming predictable and stale. The need for rejuvenation and stimulation was recognised, and that’s the reason why the Stormers head-hunted ‘foreign’ coaches such as John Plumtree, Eddie Jones and John Mitchell.

As this year’s World Cup also indicated, well-balanced attack has become a dynamic avenue for success, with the ambitious Wallabies and All Blacks progressing to the final, while stats showed that successful teams were generally passing the ball more, scoring more tries, beating more defenders and making more metres.

In the Currie Cup, the Lions clinched the title with an attractive, expansive brand of rugby, with the mindset and skills displayed proving to be a breath of fresh air.

Within reason, the Boks have to be willing to adapt and adjust their approach to the game in order to progress. In conversation with Jones before he headed off to England, he said his perception of South African teams was that they were often happier without the ball, relying on their ability to smash the opposition and feed off their mistakes. He identified the need for developing the courage and confidence to attack with their own ball.

In this regard, attack and skills will need to be coached, and whether Coetzee is the right man to do so remains the big question and concern around his possible appointment as the next Bok coach. Should he be entrusted with the top job, he may then need a strong attack coach to assist and support him.

These are the posers that Saru will have to consider in December, and it’s the reason why there is no simple solution when it comes to contemplating a successor to Meyer.

Photo: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images

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Craig Lewis