The prevailing sense of public pessimism surrounding the impending appointment of Allister Coetzee is premature, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On 12 April, the new Bok coach will be named. After months of waiting for a new man to take the helm after the departure of Heyneke Meyer, it should be a day of excitement and high expectation. It should be an occasion when the possibility of a new era for Bok rugby is welcomed by the rugby fraternity.
Yet with Coetzee expected to take up the Bok top job, it doesn't appear to be an appointment that will receive unanimous approval as it did at last Friday's general council meeting.
From the comments I have seen and the reaction generally received from fans, the prevailing sense is one of doom and gloom. 'If Coetzee gets the job it will be the death of Bok rugby,' bemoaned one. 'The Springboks will go backwards,' suggested another. And on it goes …
While I understand the reasons for reservations, which predominantly revolve around the much-needed ability to evolve the Boks' style of play, I don't subscribe to a philosophy of hopelessness.
Coetzee is a coach who has served his time in the system and has a keen understanding of the pressures and dynamics of South African rugby. He not only survived, but often thrived, at the Cape coalface where the different demands of Western Province rugby are challenging at the best of times.
Let's also not forget that Coetzee was celebrated and championed as the next Bok coach in waiting when he led the Stormers to a top-of-the-log finish in the 2012 Super Rugby season. A few years earlier, Jake White had also suggested that Coetzee – then his assistant at the Boks – had all the potential to take over from him.
Unfortunately for Coetzee, the 2013 and 2014 seasons weren't so kind to either him or the Stormers, and so the tide of public opinion turned. An often dour and defence-orientated approach was predominantly the cause of this, and it apparently remains at the root of the reservations over his suitability to take over as Bok coach.
Yet when Coetzee left South African shores to take up a new coaching role with the Kobe Steelers in Japan last year, he did so with the respect and admiration of his players. In that regard, Coetzee’s ability to win over the loyalty of a diverse group of players at Western Province and the Stormers should not be overlooked.
When it comes to the role of a Bok coach, a large part of it comes down to player management. With invariably very little preparation time before tournaments and Test series, there is often only limited opportunity for intricate coaching, while the need to ensure a group of players from different franchises are able to come together and sing from the same hymn sheet is what prevails.
It’s the reason why each and every Bok coach calls for a centralised system where the franchises and national side are able to subscribe to similar playing styles and game plans. But until such time, Coetzee is the sort of ‘man manager’ who has the ability to get the best out of his players within a limited time frame.
By the sounds of it, he will also be assisted in a ‘hybrid’ system by the SA Rugby mobi-unit headed up by Rassie Erasmus, while South Africa’s Super Rugby coaches are believed to be in line to provide their input when it comes to Springbok selections. Both plans are moves towards the sort of idea sharing and co-operation in South African rugby that is long overdue.
Coetzee has also spent the past few months coaching in Japan. It’s the sort of role in a different environment that would have challenged him as a coach, and surely provided him with new insights into the ball-in-hand, high-paced approach that presides over the Top League competition.
Is Coetzee the right man for the Bok job? It’s a fair question to ask, but who can say for sure? Surely, though, it’s too soon to judge a coach before he has even been officially appointed.
Photo: Tertius Pickard/Gallo Images