The late appointment of the next Springbok coach will hamper preparations and planning ahead of an important season for the Test side, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Typically, the second month of a calendar year is packed with excitement and potential. A new Super Rugby tournament looms. The Bok coach travels to the respective South African franchises to outline his plans for the coming season, and to make a few requests.
February also signals the start of the Six Nations. Typically, the Bok coach and select members of his management team fly to Europe to gather intel on the northern hemisphere sides that South Africa will face later in the season.
Unfortunately, this year will be different. We’re already into February, and the next Bok coach is yet to be appointed. The next management team is yet to be confirmed. These important decisions will only be made when Saru’s general council meets at the end of March, less than three months before the Boks’ first Test against Ireland on 11 June.
Allister Coetzee remains the favourite to succeed Heyneke Meyer. However, one wonders what Coetzee and his assistants will be able to achieve with regard to their planning for that three-game series. Time will be against the Bok coach, more so than in previous years.
Think back to 2008. Peter de Villiers took control of the Boks in January, but it was some time before he was able to make the desired changes to the team’s style of play. South Africa beat Wales (twice) and Italy in the June series by playing a game that resembled that of the 2007 World Cup champions, who were coached by Jake White. It was only in the 2008 Tri-Nations where De Villiers put his own stamp on the side.
In early 2012, Heyneke Meyer was similarly limited. Like De Villiers, Meyer bemoaned the short turnaround ahead of his first series in charge (a three-Test affair against England).
Meyer took a lot of heat for the Boks’ conservative approach in that series. He responded by suggesting that he had no alternative, that the pressure to win was immense and that he didn’t have sufficient time to alter the game plan.
The next Bok coach was always going to inherit the problem. And yet, given the delayed naming of the head coach and management team, there’s reason to believe that the class of 2016 will have it worse than their predecessors.
Both De Villiers and Meyer played their first three Tests in South Africa. They were under immense pressure to win their first series at home. The fear of losing those matches was stronger than the desire to try something new and innovative.
Both went full circle to finish their respective tenures in disappointing fashion. In 2011, the Boks played a limited game and bowed out of the World Cup. Meyer’s charges were similarly conservative in the 2015 instalment.
In the wake of the latter tournament, many called for a change in game plan and attitude. Many experts felt that the Boks would never be the No 1 side again until they abandoned that fear of losing.
Will we see that in 2016? Will the next coach succeed where De Villiers and Meyer failed?
Perhaps the real question is whether any coach can change a team's playing style without spending an extended period with the players, some of whom he has never worked with before. And in 2016, the Bok coach will have less time to initiate the change.
To say this is frustrating is an understatement. So much is expected of a Bok coach in his first year in charge. This season, the coach will also be expected to take transformation targets into account, to do his bit while still obtaining results.
That alone is going to take a lot of planning. That is going to require a lot of buy-in from the respective franchises, most of whom have a habit of preserving their own interests.
Right now, the Bok coach and his staff should have such plans in place. They should be jetting to Europe over the next couple of weeks to watch the relevant Six Nations games.
They should be analysing Ireland. They should be looking closely at England and Wales (and Scotland, who may be added to the fixture list) ahead of their sojourn to the United Kingdom in November.
The Bok team that fronts Ireland this June should be very different to the side that battled the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final at Twickenham last November. And yet the biggest stumbling block may not be an inexperienced team, but an undercooked management unit that hasn’t enjoyed the necessary opportunity to put crucial plans in place.
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