South African rugby is at its lowest point in the professional era, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
Argentina’s win against the Springboks in Salta wasn’t a surprise. It was kind of expected even if we hoped against hope that the Boks would deliver individually and transfer the stuttering singular into a commanding collective effort.
It never happened although the Houdini escape, which Allister Coetzee’s Boks have perfected this season, appeared momentarily with four minutes to go.
This time luck wouldn’t favour the Boks and the Pumas responded a minute later with a match-winning penalty to claim a historic 26-24 first-ever win at home against the Boks.
The Boks, in 2016, have delivered theatre in how their matches have been won and lost. But they have not delivered the quality of a side whose coaches and players constantly talk about wanting to be the best.
Currently the Boks are way off being the best and it would not be inaccurate to suggest that the performances of 2016 rank along with the worst in SA’s professional Test era.
Coetzee, as head coach, has done little to inspire any confidence. He is the Bok coach and will be the Bok coach until 2019.
His coaching pedigree included victory in the 2007 World Cup as Jake White’s assistant coach and he was also head coach of the Stormers for six years.
Coetzee is a nice guy, well liked and with an impressive playing CV. But he wasn’t my pick as Heyneke Meyer’s successor, and the early stumbles and struggles of the Boks haven’t come as a surprise. It isn’t going to easily get better.
Coetzee, from his original team selection, has been caught between entrusting the core of the Lions Super Rugby players and their respective game plan with a core of Test players he has been familiar with and a game plan geared around these players.
Coetzee has tried to marry two philosophies and two types of players, but without the certainty of a singular philosophy. It hasn’t delivered anything but uncertainty, inconsistency and inaccuracy.
There have been late comebacks against Ireland and Argentina from which to take positives. There have been individual performances and the odd match highlights package, but collectively there has been nothing in five Tests to suggest anything but hardship and toil for the Springboks as the greater challenge of New Zealand, England and, to a lesser degree Australia, await.
New Zealand, back-to-back World Cup winners, have improved since winning the World Cup in 2015. The men in black were emphatic in destroying Australia in Sydney and Auckland. They scored 10 tries and conceded just one. The intensity, tempo and quality of their performance has no equal in today’s game.
Headlines in New Zealand on Sunday asked whether the All Blacks domination was good for the game and the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand was again questioned as New Zealand claimed a 14th successive Bledisloe Cup. Similar questions will be asked of the rivalry against the traditional foe SA after the recent troubles of the Springboks.
It is one thing losing to the All Blacks, but in the last two years the Boks have lost to Argentina and Ireland at home and lost to Japan (that was at the World Cup) and Argentina away from home.
South African rugby is at its lowest point in the professional era and there is not a quick fix or a magic wand to address the slide.
Coetzee will change the squad for the visit to Brisbane and Christchurch. But regardless of the squad, there is unlikely to be a change in results.
Many dismiss the role of the coach. I am not among them. You only have to see the difference Eddie Jones has made with England.
You only have to refer to Jake White’s CV wherever he goes. Coaches make a difference to the quality of a team. Equally, they make a difference to lack of performance by a team.
Coetzee was a popular choice because he is an inoffensive character, but this inoffensive character’s Bok team has produced very offensive rugby in 2016.
Coetzee is here to stay for the next four years, so calling for his sacking or asking for a resignation would be nothing more than a column rant.
Coetzee’s team of assistants are also not experienced enough. The quality of who supports the coach is questionable, and it was even before the Boks played a match in 2016.
Coetzee does not have the answers, and investing in consultants to help Coetzee may briefly stop the bleeding, but it cannot indefinitely stop the blood loss.
These are painful, hurtful and bloody times for the Springboks. And if you are watching or writing about the Boks, they’re just awful times.
Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP Photo