JOHANNESBURG – Plenty of reasons were provided for the shocking showing by the Springboks in 2016. The more demanding supporters would not have called them reasons ... they’d simply have used the word excuses.
Well, there is no room for excuses in 2017. When the Boks got back from Europe in late November, their record for the year was a poor one: played 12, won four. Coach Allister Coetzee was summoned to SA Rugby’s headquarters and asked to explain himself – and to fight for his job.
What came out, in providing reasons for the disappointing showing, would have included, among other things, the following: 1) he was only appointed in April and wasn’t given enough time to plan and get everything in place; 2) he wasn’t able to hold training camps because of his late appointment; 3) he was given a backs coach he may not have been happy with; 4) he also inherited a forwards coach and defence coach from the previous four years; and 5) many of the players he picked were young and inexperienced at Test level.
Coetzee rightly had reason to feel hard done by last season, for some of the reasons/excuses mentioned above. It wasn’t fair on him that he only got the job two months before the Boks had to take on Ireland, but then no-one else is to blame for the type of rugby the Boks played, or the players who were selected.
Now, in 2017, and South African Rugby having learnt from past “mistakes”, Coetzee is supposed to be in position “A” ahead of the France series.
Several coaching indabas since December have apparently resulted in greater communication and understanding between Super Rugby franchise coaches and Coetzee, and the needs of the Springboks, and there has been consensus around conditioning, playing styles and the resting of key national players during "Super Rugby".
Apparently everyone involved in rugby at the highest level bought into the plan and needs required to make the Boks great again.
On top of that, Coetzee goes into the season having had a full year behind him, where he would have had time to learn, plan and prepare. There have been three training camps, key players have been rested, and Coetzee was able to pick whoever he wanted for the France series. There was no limit on the number of overseas-based players he could rope in.
Coetzee has got the squad he wanted, including Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn – experienced men who now live and play abroad. He has also done the right thing by rewarding form in most cases, and has picked several Lions players who are on a strong Super Rugby run and go into this series with confidence and self-belief.
Coetzee has also got the coaching staff he wanted. Gone is backs coach Mzwandile Stick, and so too defence coaches Chean Roux and JP Ferreira (who did the job in November in Europe). And in has come so-called specialist skills and attack coach Franco Smith and defence guru Brendan Venter.
These are men Coetzee wanted and sought-out. Whether they actually make a change to the Boks only time will tell; more immediate is whether Coetzee, Venter, Smith and captain Warren Whiteley – who on the face of it all think about the game very differently – can mesh their views and ensure there is one co-ordinated plan that everyone agrees on.
The time for finding reasons for poor performances and defeats that do not involve what happens between the four white lines over 80 minutes is up. It’s now time to deliver Mr Coetzee; no more excuses.