PRETORIA – This was the series that was meant to sink Springbok coach Allister Coetzee and usher in a new national coach. However, things have not gone according to script for many of his critics.
Instead of being given his marching orders, the Incoming Test Series against France has not only saved Coetzee’s head from the proverbial chopping block, but has also strengthened his position in leading the side to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Prior to the Springboks facing the French, speculation was rife that Coetzee was already walking the plank and that his employers in Plattekloof, Cape Town, were banking on the disaster of last year to continue, so that they could show him the door.
But as the rugby gods would have it, Coetzee’s self-reflection and correction – enforced by the subsequent series victory with a game to spare over the French – would yield a different outcome to what many predicted.
What Coetzee has reevaluated, due to the turbulence of last season – when his team sank from being third in the world to seventh after losing eight of their 12 matches – was his own stubbornness not to listen to outside voices and his penchant instead to look inwards to find relief and release pressure associated with his job.
Coetzee has forced the door shut on last season by appointing a new captain in No 8 Warren Whiteley, adding the meticulous and obsessive rugby brilliance of Brendan Venter and going with his gut on which players will fit into his new plan.
But more than anything, it was Coetzee’s belief and accountability to the Man that saved him and his job, and has led, according to him, to this new-look Bok team gaining an unassailable 2-0 series lead against a formidable French side.
“I don’t have critics,” quipped Coetzee. “There is only one person’s approval I want and would like to have – it is the Almighty and no one else’s approval.
"I’ve got a four year contract with SA Rugby until 2019. A national coach knows when he signs this, that you will be judged on a few things. I am pleased that (last year) is dead and buried now and we’ve moved on.”
While Coetzee continues to live with a target on his back and will ultimately be the fall guy for any of the Springboks’ woes, he credits his players for the swift establishment of optimism in the squad, strengthened after their 37-15 win against a much stronger French team in the second Test in Durban on Saturday.
Coetzee has come full circle in his short but emotionally sapping tenure as Bok coach, especially after watching his team capitulate and suffer a record defeat at the hands of the All Blacks just eight months ago at the same venue.
He may also feel vindicated in his belief that he is the right man for the job after this year’s quick start, but the man they call 'Toetie' has not made this job-saving series about himself.
Instead, he strongly believes that his fate, and that of his team, lie in the hands of his players. Said Coetzee: “It is great to see what is happening now and it is not to prove anything to anyone but it is to make sure that our hard work is paying off at the moment.
“Yes, mistakes were made but it is the ability to rectify those mistakes and the ability to set them right that counts. We’ve got a great environment, fantastic leadership, a great captain and a willingness that everyone has bought into the plan.
“Eight months ago, people booed us off the field and on the very same field (this past weekend) the players got a standing ovation. A lot of credit must go to them for being able to unselfishly buy into our value system, obviously, with our management team as well,” Coetzee continued.
With his critics silenced and his job saved, it is now up to Coetzee and his team to fulfill their path to glory and answer the calling of the one Man that Coetzee listens to.