Denial to stall Bok progress

Allister Coetzee as well as the suits at SA Rugby must be held accountable for the Springboks’ worst season in the professional era, writes JON CARDINELLI​.

The Boks went down 27-13 to Wales in Cardiff on Saturday. A few minutes after the final whistle, SA Rugby issued a statement that reiterated its intention to review the Boks’ season and implement the necessary changes.

Immediately after the game at the Millennium Stadium, the Bok coach was interviewed by the local broadcaster. Coetzee’s eyes blazed as he delivered his message to the rugby world.

Coetzee took aim at the flawed South African rugby structures. He remained convinced that he was the right man to coach the Boks in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup. He stated that he would be 'man enough' to walk away when that was no longer the case.

In the space of a few minutes, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander and Coetzee combined to show the rugby world why the Boks are in such a dire state.

After a season that’s witnessed eight defeats in 12 Tests, SA Rugby remains reluctant to take immediate action. After a year that’s witnessed one historic Bok loss and one aura-dulling performance after another, Coetzee still believes he is up to the task as head coach.

If you were following the reaction to the loss in Cardiff, you would have reached the conclusion that a lack of honesty as well as a fierce denial is at the heart of this crisis. The SA Rugby leadership remains weak and devoid of practical solutions, while a bitter and increasingly petulant Coezee believes himself to be free of blame.

SA Rugby appointed a head coach that was, on the basis of his track record at the Stormers, never going to cut it at international level. They appointed him two months before the first Test of the 2016 season. They demanded that he hit ambitious transformation targets despite the failure of the franchises to do so in the preceding Super Rugby tournament.

Well before his appointment on 11 April, I wrote that Coetzee was being set up to fail by the SA Rugby suits. I wasn’t alone in predicting that the Boks would fail to progress in 2016, and that a win against the world-leading All Blacks and a serious challenge for the Rugby Championship title was highly unlikely.

However, what so many forget is that past Bok coaches have been forced to operate in similar conditions. Past coaches have butted heads with the SA Rugby suits over flawed policies and backward structures. Yet, the likes of Jake White, Peter de Villiers, and Heyneke Meyer all finished their respective tenures with win records greater than the overall average (63%).

Coetzee has fared worse than even his biggest critics predicted he would. His win record of 33% is the worst by a Bok coach during his first year at the helm (in the professional era). No Bok team has lost more Tests in a calendar year.

What is there for SA Rugby to debate? Why the need for a review? Deeper analysis will only highlight the shortcomings of Coetzee and his coaching staff.

Meyer was vilified after his team lost to Argentina and Japan in 2015. This year, Coetzee’s Boks suffered historic losses to Ireland, Argentina and Italy. They lost four of their six Rugby Championship Tests. They lost to the All Blacks by a record score at home, to England for the first time in 10 years, and most recently to Wales by a record margin.

Coetzee said he would walk away if he felt that he wasn’t the man to turn things round. How does he consider those results and records and still believe in his ability to do so?

Some coaches argue that results are not everything in the first year of a lengthy tenure. But again, a closer analysis of the 2016 season only highlights Coetzee’s shortcomings as a man manager and tactician.

Coetzee’s selections have made little sense, from the first Test against Ireland in Cape Town to the last match against Wales in Cardiff. The team has consistently underperformed in key areas such as the breakdown and on defence, while the tactical kicking has been abjectly poor.

Overall, it’s been evident that the players and the coaches have not been on the same page with regard to the tactics. What's worse, Coetzee himself has openly admitted after every defeat that the players remain reluctant to take his tactical message on board.

Coetzee must be held accountable, regardless of the poor leadership of SA Rugby. It could be said that the players themselves should shoulder some responsibility for their poor attitude and skills in what’s been an embarrassing season. Yet, as many a former Bok player has opined in recent months, Coetzee and his coaches simply don’t have what it takes to get the best out of these players.

Can the Boks improve under Coetzee in 2017? Well, they could hardly do worse. 2016 witnessed the worst return in the professional era.

The real question is whether they can improve on what was witnessed in 2015. Can they lift their standards to the point where they are not only beating the home nations regularly but pushing the likes of New Zealand close?

The performances as well as the results of 2016 provide a very clear answer. Unless significant changes are made to the coaching staff, the Boks will fail to progress.

Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli