The Springboks deserve a coach with the ambition as well as the tactical ability to win in spite of the backward South African rugby system, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Allister Coetzee likes to blame his players in the wake of big defeats. He’s not above blaming the self-serving South African rugby unions, or highlighting an exchange rate that encourages more and more players to ply their club trade in Europe or Japan every year.
The South African franchise coaches need to do more to manage top players with the national team in mind. They need to do more to help the national side hit its transformation targets. There needs to be a nationwide drive to develop core skills at Super Rugby level.
Coetzee is absolutely right when he says that this is what’s needed for a national side to flourish and to achieve consistent results. However, Coetzee gets it wrong – and he was just as guilty of this during his time at the Stormers – when he eliminates himself from the equation and absolves himself as well as his coaching staff of all responsibility.
Coetzee doesn’t believe he is to blame for the Boks’ four-from-10 record in 2016. He doesn’t want to take responsibility for the historic losses to Ireland and Argentina, the record 42-point defeat to the All Blacks at home, and the first loss to England in 10 years.
On Saturday evening at Twickenham, Coetzee blamed the 37-21 defeat to England on poor execution. When it was pointed out that the team had been struggling with its kicking and defence, not to mention its attack, since the first Test against Ireland at Newlands, and that Coetzee himself has been reading from the same script following every loss since, the Bok coach had no answers.
Coetzee didn’t seem to realise that a consistent admission of such problems equates to an admission that he, and by extension his coaching staff, don’t have what it takes to improve the Boks’ situation.
While he has been quick to paint himself as the victim of a chaotic South African rugby system – and the English press has been more than sympathetic to his plight this past week in London – he is yet to come out and admit the brutal truth: that he doesn’t have what it takes to turn things around.
The South African rugby system makes no sense. It will be some time yet before changes are made, changes that ensure the Super Rugby players are upskilled, real transformation takes place, and the national side reaps the benefits.
But then previous Bok coaches have been forced to deal with such challenges. Jake White won a Tri-Nations and a World Cup in spite of them. Peter de Villiers beat the All Blacks five times (twice in New Zealand), and presided over a British & Irish Lions series triumph as well as a Tri-Nations title victory. Heyneke Meyer didn’t win a major trophy, but his Bok side did achieve an 83% win record in 2013 and a 67% win ratio overall between 2012 an 2015.
Coetzee’s Boks have slumped to significant individual losses this season, and currently have a 40% win record. At best, they will finish the year having won half of their Test matches.
The decline in results and standards cannot be put down, at least not completely, to a flawed system, transformation and the big money in Europe. Indeed, White, De Villiers and Meyer had to face similar challenges during their respective tenures. And when they lost big games, they were held accountable.
Why then is Coetzee free of blame? How is it that he still has a job? Is this an admission by SA Rugby that it cannot do better, that it is content with mediocrity?
Everything about the England set-up contrasts that of South Africa. For starters, they have a crack coach in Eddie Jones whose ambition is matched by his knowledge of the game.
Even so, Jones is not so arrogant as to believe that he knows everything. The makeup of his coaching staff confirms as much. The backroom team reads like the who’s who of world coaching, and still Jones has looked to add more to the mix – league coach Jason Ryles the most recent of those – as the year has progressed.
The attitude and confidence in the England side has been plain to see. It’s a different sort of confidence, the kind that comes from strong preparation and attention to detail.
Everybody I’ve spoken to in London this past week has sang Jones and his coaches’ praises. Everybody has hailed the set-up as something special. One cannot help but feel that they are right to be talking up England’s chances ahead of the next World Cup. England may not beat the All Blacks in a potential final, but they should push them close.
Again, one needs to contrast that professional set-up with the circus that is South African rugby. Coetzee and his coaches have not been able to convey their tactical message to the players over the past six months. While there is plenty of desire in the squad at present, there is no conviction and belief that a pragmatic game plan will bring the team success.
It’s been disturbing to hear the players questioning the need to play for territory. The aversion to kicking is concerning, considering that all top teams, including the All Blacks, use the kick as an attacking weapon. The mindset in this Bok side is flawed, and again the coaches need to take some responsibility.
The Boks need a Jones-type character at the helm. They need a coach who can come in and make some strong decisions, who can implement structures and make appointments that actually add value.
There will be parameters. There will be limitations due to that backward South African system. But a strong coach will work within those boundaries and, at the very least, ensure that the Boks win between 60 and 70% of their matches.
That in itself may appear a modest ambition. Yet, when one realises this, one understands how far the current Bok side has fallen and how tactically and technically deficient the coaching staff is at present.
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