PRETORIA – It will have come as no surprise to Allister Coetzee, the rugby fraternity and rugby fans across the country that Saru made the decision on Friday to end their unhappy marriage with the former Stormers coach.
Too much had happened in the past two years for Coetzee to continue at the helm of the national team, and that explosive letter by him to Saru chief executive Jurie Roux – which was conveniently leaked to the media last week – would have been the fatal blow.
It was the contents of that letter which best epitomised Coetzee’s short stay at the top – from the shambolic manner in which Saru conducts itself, especially their elected administrators, to how inept Coetzee was when needing to stand on his own two feet.
The truth of the matter is that Saru never appeared to give Coetzee their full backing, and his late appointment and forced back-room staff was a clear sign of an employer giving their employee enough rope to hang themselves.
Probably out of desperation to be Springbok coach, just like his predecessors, Coetzee made his first error by accepting the job on Saru’s terms.
The Boks’ woes in 2016 were certainly not just because of Coetzee. In the aftermath of losing their first Test to Ireland on South African soil, losing to Argentina in South America for the first time, losing to the All Blacks by a record score on home soil and that maiden loss to Italy, Coetzee should have cleaned house.
Up until then, most of the rugby public will have had a lot of sympathy for Coetzee, considering the hospital pass he had been given.
The disaster of 2016 should have been the stick that Coetzee beat Saru with. But Coetzee didn’t stand up for himself, his team and the country.
And while Saru conceded to Coetzee’s requests for camps during Super Rugby, it was Coetzee who dragged his feet on naming his captain and rewarding players who showed good form.
Coetzee failed to take accountability for the position he held, and when the time presented itself for him to take the Springboks to the “Promised Land” by making Siya Kolisi the captain, Coetzee went for what he considered to be a safe bet in Eben Etzebeth.
That was on the eve of the third and last Test against France, with the series already won.
Instead of embracing the moment of naming the first black Springbok captain, Coetzee not only infuriated his employers and many die-hard rugby fans, but he also lost “black” support and ultimately the political backing crucial to staying in the job.
The fact that the Boks were playing what looked like a defensive game plan, a hallmark of Coetzee’s Stormers and Western Province teams, did not endear him further to the masses.
And it did not help Coetzee that the Boks would again find themselves the butt of jokes after record defeats to the All Blacks and Ireland.
Then there were the shocking decisions that saw replacements Chiliboy Ralepelle and Rudy Paige not get any game time in Tests against Australia and the All Blacks at home, further fanning the fires of discontent within the team and from the fans.
Losing to Ireland had nothing to do with the players’ unhappiness about flying economy class via Doha, as Coetzee stated in his letter.
It had everything to do with the Springboks’ deluded thoughts that that they had made progress in their one-point loss to the All Blacks at Newlands, and a failure to plan adequately for a team that Coetzee knew were favourites to beat his team.
What transpired in the games against Italy and Wales mirrored the sad tale that the Boks had become – an unimaginative side that failed to acknowledge their self-made disasters.
While it is certainly fair to wonder whether Saru ever really wanted Coetzee as coach, Coetzee must also take his share of the blame.
He cannot get away from winning just 11 out of 25 Tests, the lack of a creative and competitive playing style and unfortunately the absence of bravery to change the face of the Springbok team.