New coach Allister Coetzee aims to inject more speed and precision into the existing Springbok game plan. JON CARDINELLI reports.
It’s been an open secret for some time, but the appointment of Coetzee as South Africa's head coach was only officially confirmed on Tuesday in Johannesburg. At the press conference, a delighted Coetzee revealed that Johann van Graan (forwards) and Mzwandile Stick (backs) would be part of his coaching staff.
Coetzee said that SA Rugby has provided him with the option of employing further specialist coaches if the need arises. He confirmed that SA Rugby’s mobi-unit will also play a role in preparing the Boks for the three-Test series against Ireland.
Coetzee also played down the fact that there’s not much time between now and the Boks’ first game against Ireland in Cape Town on 11 June.
‘It doesn’t matter if you have six weeks or 12 weeks to prepare,’ the new coach said. ‘The bottom line is that we will have to be physically and mentally ready.
'I know that Ireland will present a tough challenge, as Six Nations champions in 2014 and 2015. But I am positive when I see all the preparation that’s already been done by the mobi-unit, as well as the fact that the South African teams are playing some good rugby.’
Coetzee is confident that the Boks will play a positive brand of rugby in 2016. Again, he pointed to the progress of the South African teams in the current Super Rugby competition.
The Lions, in particular, have impressed with their attacking play. And, as was witnessed this past weekend in the match against the Sharks, the Lions have the ability to strike a winning balance between running and kicking.
‘I want to develop a strong team culture. It’s important to get everybody to buy into what we want to achieve,’ Coetzee said.
‘We have to evolve in certain ways. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the traditional strengths of South African rugby. I will maintain those aspects, such as the physical element. I just find that as other countries have evolved and are now facing up to that physical challenge [of the Boks]. So, you have to be smarter about the way you play.
‘We’ve already seen our Super Rugby coaches encouraging their teams to play more ball-in-hand rugby during this year’s competition. I’m a firm believer that there are different areas in which you can pressure an opponent. If it’s not through the set piece or the kicking game or the defence, then it’s through attack.
‘Our biggest point of focus will be the speed and movement of our attack. How quickly we can generate momentum and get back into position. How quickly we can then get it through the hands and expose the space.
‘Of course, decision-making will be crucial,’ he continued. ‘There will be an emphasis on the 9s and 10s making the right tactical decisions.’
Despite his assurances to the contrary, Coetzee and his coaching team won’t have much time to mould a new squad of players and alter the game plan. While Van Graan has been part of the Bok coaching set-up since 2012, Stick is a newcomer to this level. Many will be asking whether he has enough experience to initiate the change that is required.
‘I have confidence in Stick,' said Coetzee in response to the question. 'He performed well as a coach at the junior levels, and now at Super Rugby level [with the Kings as backs coach].’
Coetzee added that he won’t be holding any training camps ahead of the series against Ireland. He does, however, intend to visit the unions as well as several senior players, and discuss his plans for the future.
Coetzee will also be chatting to his predecessor, Heyneke Meyer, over the next few weeks.
‘I have to commend him for the tremendous job he did in bringing through so many exciting youngsters [between 2012 and 2015]. Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth have been fantastic, as has Willie le Roux. Jesse Kriel was plucked from nowhere, but showed he was up to the challenge. I’m pleased that these players are already in the system.’
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images