Coetzee can’t take Boks forward

The decision to retain Allister Coetzee and several of his assistants would serve as a blow to the Springboks’ hopes of progress in 2017, writes JON CARDINELLI.

You want to be optimistic. You want to believe that all the scoreboards have been reset in the new year, and that every Test team in the world will start again at zero.

Then you hear that plans are afoot to reward the worst Bok coach of the professional era with another season at the helm. You hear that there are few viable alternatives and that such candidates – read Rassie Erasmus – aren’t willing to wade back into the festering quagmire that is the South African rugby system.

The optimists say that the Boks couldn’t do any worse in 2017. My question to those people is this: With the retention of Coetzee and a few assistant coaches clearly out of their depth, can the Boks really expect to do better?

Will we see an improvement in results? Forget about evolution and Rugby Championship title prospects; will we see the Boks emerging from the 2017 season with their pride and aura restored?

Duane Vermeulen first broached the subject in the wake of the Boks’ humiliating 57-15 defeat to the All Blacks at Kings Park last October. Then Schalk Burger bemoaned the state of South African rugby in an interview with an English newspaper. That 57-15 scoreline was as much an indictment on the system as the limitations of the national coaching staff.

More recently, Lood de Jager said that the players will have plenty to prove in 2017. De Jager is not alone on this point. I interviewed Siya Kolisi this past week, and the flanker called on all of the players and coaches in the rugby community to work towards rebuilding South Africa’s battered reputation.

It’s the right attitude, but attitude alone won’t propel the Boks back to the top of the World Rugby rankings. There needs to be a change to the system and, as the shocking performances and results of 2016 suggest, a significant change to the national coaching staff. While SA Rugby has begun to address the former, it seems incapable of getting things right on the coaching front.

There are rumours that Brendan Venter may yet join Coetzee’s coaching staff as defence coach, and that Franco Smith is in line to replace Mzwandile Stick as mentor to the backs on a more permanent basis. Those appointments should boost the Boks’ chances of improving in three key areas of the modern game, namely defence, counter-attack, and aerial skills.

However, one has to ask how the Boks plan to improve their woeful kicking skills. They are also in dire need of a specialist breakdown or collisions coach. Their limp performances at the gainline in 2016 led many former players and coaches from around the world to conclude that the once feared Boks had lost their belligerent aura.

At the beginning of 2016, some predicted that the Boks would struggle. The prediction was based on the state of South African rugby, the late appointment of the coaching staff, and the limitations of Coetzee himself.

The Boks failed to meet the modest expectations, though. After losing eight games, a record that included an inaugural loss to Italy, they were marked as the worst South African side in the professional era.

In 2017, locals and foreigners alike will expect the worst from the Boks. Again, the predictions will be based on the South African system and the fact that Coetzee – who had a mediocre record at the Stormers and was statistically the worst ever coach in his first year in charge of the Boks – has been backed in the position of power.

There may be a few minor reasons to celebrate, such as a series win against France in June and perhaps the first away win of Coetzee’s tenure later in the year. But in terms of real and significant progress, the kind that will inspire hope and belief that the Boks could be more than also-rans at the next World Cup, South African rugby supporters shouldn’t hold their breath.

Photo: Luigi Bennett/BackpagePix

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Jon Cardinelli