Poor succession planning at both coach and player level is a root cause of the Springboks’ current woes, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Today marks the anniversary of the Boks’ shock loss to Japan in the opening match of last year’s World Cup. That result will forever live in infamy as surely the lowest point in Springbok rugby, but 12 months later, a pall of doom and gloom once again prevails over the state of the game in South Africa.
Searching for positives is a relatively futile task, with Saturday’s heavy defeat to the All Blacks marking the Boks’ fourth loss in a year that has already included first-ever defeats to Ireland in South Africa and the Pumas in Argentina.
As a rugby public, it seems everyone is searching for answers as to how the Boks have regressed so dramatically since that devastating defeat to Japan.
It’s a time when the opinions of those with superior rugby intellect should perhaps be held in especially high regard. And it’s with this in mind that it has been particularly interesting to take cognisance of the views of widely respected past or present top-level coaches such as Jake White, Brendan Venter, Nick Mallett and John Mitchell.
A common denominator among such rugby men has been to look at the root cause of the problem, and then for a solution, rather than lay the blame at the door of any one individual.
Ultimately, there can be no doubt that the current state of Springbok rugby has been the result of several system failures rather than some problem that simply arose overnight.
The warning signs were surely already flashing prior to the World Cup when reports emerged suggesting Heyneke Meyer was set to be kept on as coach, only for him to vacate his post under murky circumstances after the global event.
Where was the necessary clarity and planning? Well, it appeared to be so lacking that the appointment of Allister Coetzee was only made as late as April. And whether or not he was the right man for the job, it’s clear that he initially was set on a pathway to trouble through not only his belated appointment, but as a result of the limited support group around him.
As has been pointed out by some of the aforementioned experts, two of the key fundamentals for any Test side in transition revolve around first ensuring your defence and kicking game is up to scratch.
And therein lies the rub. Renowned defensive guru Jacques Nienaber left his post at the end of June, only to be replaced by Chean Roux, who is not a specialist in that department and has essentially stepped up to Test level from varsity rugby.
Almost inexplicably, the Boks do not have a designated full-time specialist kicking coach, while for all his possible potential, new backline coach Mzwandile Stick is extremely inexperienced. Beyond that, scrum and breakdown coach Matt Proudfoot, was another belated appointment.
Who can Allister Coetzee really turn to in this time of need? For whatever shortcomings he may have, as White quite rightly pointed out in an interview recently, he has essentially been on a hiding to nothing as a result of the manner in which his appointment and that of his management team was conducted.
And what of this current squad? There has been an incredible lack of appreciation for the void that has been left by the absence of stalwarts such as Fourie du Preez, Jannie du Plessis, Victor Matfield, Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts.
Their absences have left the Boks weak down the spine of the team, while Matfield is really the only player who had a clear-cut successor (Lood de Jager/Pieter-Steph du Toit) waiting in the wings. There has also been plenty of debate around the absence of an ideal long-term candidate to take over the captaincy.
Furthermore, injuries to other experienced Test players such as Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee, Frans Malherbe, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein and Handré Pollard have also considerably compromised the Bok cause.
For any Test team in transition, continuity and confidence is key to success. At both a coaching and player level, this has been clearly lacking in the current setup.
And as much as the coaching and player group need to share responsibility for the sad state of Springbok affairs at present, they have been done no favours by the poor succession planning and mediocre support structures around them.
There is now a clear need for the Boks to bring in some new players, specialist coaches and to begin sharing knowledge among the various franchises with the primary aim of ensuring the national team finally begins restoring it's ever-diminishing aura on the world rugby stage.
Photo: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images