Allister Coetzee’s debut Springbok squad selection rewards Super Rugby form and represents SA Rugby’s transformation targets, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
Now all Coetzee has to do is win the three-Test series against Ireland.
The squad selection is devoid of controversy and the coach, on explaining his philosophy and selections, was very precise in his communication. It is refreshing to be able to describe the selection of a Springbok squad reflected calm and not chaos.
Coetzee has been logical in his selections, especially when it comes to the situation of local and overseas-based players.
On his appointment, Coetzee insisted that he wanted to select the best players for the Springboks and that he would not prejudice any overseas-based player’s chances of representing South Africa. But Coetzee also said he was mindful of rewarding form in Super Rugby and that in any 50-50 selection the player based in South Africa would be favoured.
Coetzee spoke of the need to manage players effectively, both those who are based in South Africa and those aligned to foreign-based clubs. He also spoke of the need to invest in black rugby players because they were good players and not only because they are black players with the potential to become good.
Coetzee, in showing his hand for the first time, was true to all that preceded the action that certainly backed up such rhetoric.
Coetzee, as head coach, is the most important selector. It is, after all, Coetzee who must always get the match 23 he wants because it is Coetzee who fronts after every Test and it is Coetzee whose job success will ultimately be determined by results.
Coetzee’s national selection is consistent (in manner and delivery) with how he assembled his squads when coach of the Stormers. The coach has an opinion, which is reflected in who he selects, but he is comfortable in explaining his selections because of rational thinking.
Player opinion has for the last 100 years divided many a coach, selector, writer and supporter. And any debate on Coetzee’s Bok squad will be a continuation of why he thinks a player is the best, and you and I may think differently.
The only difference is Coetzee’s team gets to prove him wrong every time whereas our selections never get to fail. Let’s always keep that in mind when the situation calls for perspective and the international season intensifies.
For now, Coetzee is getting it right with his application of logical thinking and with the ease in explaining this.
It makes sense to primarily reward Super Rugby form. It makes sense to integrate overseas-based players into the squad at a later stage, if he feels the need because of the player quality or because of poor national results.
Coetzee is mindful of the heavy club work of those in-form Springboks based in Europe. Jake White’s Montpellier, whose nine South African regulars include Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn, would have played 40 matches in the past 11 months.
White, in a recent interview with me, said the quality of players like Du Plessis and Steyn meant they were good enough to still play for the Springboks, but he said if he was the Bok coach he would focus on building a team within South Africa over the next four years and he would attempt to lure back to South Africa any player based in Europe he believed was that much better than the local-based options.
Coetzee has always said he would prefer the option of selection rather than be stifled by restriction and regulation, but he made it clear the player who earned his living overseas would always have to show that bit more to be in the national equation.
It is encouraging Coetzee has started his selection with sound and rational logic. He has also shown an appreciation for the qualities of attacking players, but his pack selections are an indicator that the traditional physicality and set-piece values won’t be dismissed as relics of the past.
South Africa’s franchises are all well represented in Coetzee’s Bok squad, and the SA A squad for the two-Test series against the England Saxons.
The Lions in 2015 were South Africa’s Currie Cup champions and in 2016 they have consistently been the most impressive of the South African challenge.
Coetzee, as national coach, has recognised this and his selections are reward to the Lions players and their coaching staff.
Coetzee’s predecessor, Heyneke Meyer, did not pick a single Lions player in his 2015 World Cup squad. Coetzee has already shown up the prejudice of last year’s World Cup selections.
Now his team must simply beat Ireland.
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images