The infighting and indecision at SA Rugby will limit the progress of the Springboks in 2016, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Just when you thought that the dark clouds may be parting, the South African rugby landscape has been hit by another storm.
This past weekend, Die Burger confirmed that Rassie Erasmus won’t push for the Bok coach job. It was reported that Nick Mallett and Brendan Venter, who had been tipped for national selector posts, believe that the responsibility may not be worth the headache.
How different the forecast for 2016 may have looked had Erasmus, Mallett and Venter – three of South Africa’s sharpest rugby minds – committed to the Bok cause. That said, one can understand why the trio might feel that now is the wrong time to be involved with the national side.
Since the Boks bowed out of the 2015 World Cup, SA Rugby has lurched from one controversy to another. The rugby authorities promised to have a new coach in place by mid-December. Then early January. Now we’re told that the appointment will be made in late March. Maybe.
While SA Rugby continues to wrestle with various issues as well as the decision to make a decision on the new national coach, the Boks’ prospects of succeeding in 2016 continue to diminish. Whomever coaches the Boks in 2016 will be at a disadvantage.
Allister Coetzee remains the favourite to coach the Boks. One cannot help but feel sorry for him. The pressure on the Bok coach to win in his first season is immense. Peter de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer both experienced that pressure in 2008 and 2012 respectively, and both stuck to a conservative game plan as a result. Coetzee will have it even worse than his predecessors in that he will only have two months to plan for his first series against Ireland.
Some might say that two months is sufficient given Ireland’s struggles at the 2015 World Cup and in the Six Nations. Joe Schmidt’s team recently lost to England, a defeat that cost them the chance of winning a third straight Six Nations title. They may arrive in South Africa this June a tired and depleted unit.
But the next Bok coach will have a lot more to worry about than the June series. In the past, Bok coaches have lamented the short turnaround between their appointment and their first Test. There is a lot that needs to be put in place, and not just for the first Test, but for the season as a whole.
In October 2012, Meyer was asked to reflect on his first few months at the helm. The Boks had beaten England 2-0 in the June series. They had won two and drawn one in the Rugby Championship. Meyer felt that with more opportunity to prepare and plan, the performances and perhaps even the results may have been different.
What will the expectations be of the Boks in the 2016 Rugby Championship? New Zealand will continue to push forward. Australia, as they showed at the World Cup, are on the rise. Argentina made a statement at the global tournament, and should be even stronger in the Rugby Championship.
Will the Boks be better in 2016? Before you answer, consider what has happened since their exit from the 2015 World Cup. A number of veterans have retired. Little has been done to nail down a successor to Meyer, and thus little planning for the season ahead. On what basis can we expect the Boks to thrill and thrive in 2016?
There will be a lot of talk over the next few months about the performances of the South African teams in Super Rugby. Some of it may even be positive. Indeed, many are already hailing the Sharks’ new approach after their rousing attacking display against the Kings in round one.
This would be encouraging in a national context if all of the South African franchises had similar structures and game plans. It would help if all the players who went on to represent the Boks in the June series and Rugby Championship didn’t need to adapt to a new style of play.
The next Bok coach will need to bring his team up to speed, and in double-quick time. It’s for this reason that we should temper our expectations of the Boks in 2016, both in terms of the brand of rugby they favour and the results they obtain.
Sadly, the administration and structures in South African rugby still serve to hamper the progress of the national side rather than boost it.
Photo: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images