Allister Coetzee has the character and credentials to meet the transformation targets that will supersede anything faced by previous Bok coaches, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Back in December, SA Rugby president Oregan Hoskins said that transformation imperatives needed to be at the top of the new coach’s agenda. He also confirmed that it was one of the key points of discussion with Heyneke Meyer prior to his exit as Bok coach.
After all, SA Rugby has committed to an agreement that will aim to ensure the rate of transformation is increased at all levels of rugby in the years to come, and ultimately for the Springbok team to be represented with a 50% racial split by 2019.
Unsurprisingly then, some of the first questions Coetzee had to face at his unveiling as Bok coach on Tuesday revolved around this subject.
Coetzee, though, was undaunted: 'It’s not a challenge, I see transformation as an exciting opportunity and will make sure a diverse team is a very strong team,’ he mused.
His assertions ring true. Lest we forget, Coetzee spent six years in the hot seat of Western Province rugby, where the political and racial dynamics are as diverse as they are challenging.
Yet regardless of whatever shortcomings people might have identified with the Stormers and Western Province's on-field play or title tally, Coetzee's transformation achievements were beyond reproach.
Coetzee is a man who prioritises the 'human factor' in a team environment. When he looks a player in the eye, and tells them they have been selected on merit, he does so with a degree of colour blindness. By believing in a player and affording them opportunities, he wins their trust and brings out the best in them.
In just two similar examples, look at Gio Aplon and Cheslin Kolbe. Certain coaches may have looked at them and gone 'too small, not physical enough' and boxed them into a role as an impact player.
Coetzee, by contrast, viewed these players as his X-factor danger men and happily backed them to start. He did the same with Juan de Jongh, and don't be surprised to see his long overdue return to the Springbok set-up this season.
To somewhat digress for a moment. There are a number of people who have also questioned the merits of Mzwandile Stick's appointment as an assistant coach. Yet, in a revealing interview on SuperSport's new Phaka rugby show, he provided some meaningful insight into what SA Rugby has undoubtedly seen in him.
When he began coaching in EP rugby, Stick received the full backing of academy manager Robbie Kempson, and it was this endorsement that he said inspired him to work as hard as possible. From there, Stick went on to coach the EP U19 side to the provincial title before being promoted to the Kings management team at the beginning of 2016.
It’s that sort of work ethic, fuelled by different upbringings, that forms part of what Coetzee has described as part of the ‘uniqueness of South Africa that should make us stronger’.
In order to meet the considerable transformation objectives SA Rugby has agreed to by 2019, it’s clear that this end goal can only be achieved through immediate and proactive change. Primarily in terms of the way this complex subject is viewed.
As an undoubtedly inclusive coach who prioritises the well-being of his players, and who appreciates the cosmopolitan makeup of South African rugby, Coetzee brings with him the ability to unite.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images