No defence for dire Coetzee and co

There’s nothing emotional about the demand for a new Springbok coaching staff following a 2016 season that’s witnessed seven embarrassing defeats in 11 matches, writes JON CARDINELLI​.

Allister Coetzee does not deal in emotions. ‘I look at the stats,’ he famously stated, after presiding over a historic loss to Ireland in early June.

Six months on, and the most crucial stats of all make for alarming reading. Coetzee’s Boks have lost seven of their 11 Tests for a win record of 36%.

That record includes a first-ever defeat to Ireland at home, an inaugural loss to the Pumas in Argentina, a record defeat to New Zealand on home soil, a first loss to England in 10 years, and, most recently, a first-ever defeat to Italy.

Need we go further? Surely there’s no defence for a record like that?

But let’s embrace the spirit of Coetzee. Let’s park our emotions in the wake of a humiliating loss to Italy, and look at the overall stats.

You can’t argue with the numbers. Let’s see what conclusions can be drawn from the Boks’ results and performances in 2016.

If the season was to end right now, Coetzee would be remembered as the least successful Bok coach in the professional era. Carel du Plessis’s Bok side won 38% of its matches between 10 June and 23 August 1997. If the Boks lose to Wales, Coetzee will finish 2016 with a record inferior to that.

Now that we’ve established exactly how bad Coetzee’s Boks have fared in the context of 21 years of professionalism, let’s consider what SA Rugby intends to do about it.

What steps are the governing body taking to sound out prospective head coaches? What is it doing to ensure that the mistakes of the past season are not repeated in 2017 and beyond, and that the best possible coaching staff is assembled and tasked with taking the Boks back to the top?

According to a recent press release, which quotes SA Rugby president Mark Alexander extensively, SA Rugby intends to hold a full review at the end of the season. It intends to cover everything from the national team’s performances to the issue of overseas-based players. It promises to find solutions.

When one considers Coetzee’s win record, one is inclined to believe that a post-season review is a waste of time. That dire record speaks for itself. The Boks began the 2016 season on a shocking note, and have continued to rack up humiliating losses over the course of the year. Even if the Boks win this coming weekend, they will finish 2016 having lost more Tests than they have won.

Coetzee has failed to deliver on his promise to bring balance to the Bok game plan. Indeed, his team has battled to live up to the traditional South African standards. His selections have compromised the Boks' drive to lay a decent forward platform before kicking for space or striking wide. Those responsible for problem areas like the breakdown, the kicking game, and the defence have shown why they need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

That SA Rugby has made some monumental and embarrassing mistakes is not up for debate. The late appointment of Coetzee as head coach, of course, did more harm than good. While that alone can’t excuse the team’s consistent decline, it does highlight the faults of a governing body that so often hampers rather than boosts the national team.

Why ask Brendan Venter to run a South African coaching indaba just one month before he is set to help Italy with their defence in a Test against the Boks? SA Rugby will try to spin it some other way, but it’s hard to get away from the fact that the man tasked with facilitating the most important South African think tank in 2016 has also contributed to the Boks’ most embarrassing loss of 2016. No matter how you try to dress it up, it looks bad. What kind of organisation allows these things to happen?

Again, the bumbling of SA Rugby should not excuse the Bok coaches or the players for their shambolic performances. Indeed, many a Bok coach has been forced to operate under the same circus tent before. And, as the record reflects, no coach has fared quite as badly as Coetzee.

Coetzee’s words in the wake of every loss this year have lacked conviction. The body language of his players in training, and even in big matches, has spoken of a group that is simply going through the motions.

This team has no aspirations to excellence. The current coaching staff doesn’t have what it takes to get the Boks out of this hole.

That much has been evident over the past season. Following every game, we’ve had to endure platitudes about a team that is one pass away from winning or turning the corner. We’ve had to listen to Coetzee blaming his players for poor execution or a lack of luck.

Coetzee is yet to grasp one of the fundamental sporting truths: The players’ on-field attitude and tactical approach is a direct reflection of the attitude and tactical approach of the head coach.

Coetzee's Boks have lacked desire and physicality, as well as an appreciation for the tactical side of the game. While the 2016 results certainly speak of a coach out of his depth, the performances scream that Coetzee and many of his lieutenants do not belong at the elite level.

Photo: Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli