Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has been criticised after the team’s recent results. Photo: BackpagePix

There was a moment during one of his press conferences this week when Allister Coetzee’s responses drifted out of his mouth like an incoherent babble.

It was an excruciating, difficult scene to watch. At that very moment you could feel the job, the very enormity of it, slipping away from the Springbok coach. 

I have no idea whether he will survive the latest fallout after yet another wretched team display, against Ireland, but you sense that a tipping point has been reached.

There have been howls of outrage in past months, but nothing like recent days where calls for him to go greatly intensified.

Rassie Erasmus is now being positioned as an overlord of sorts and his immediate duty will be to settle things down. It won’t be easy.

The Springbok job is a mighty one. It pays well, ensures special status and remains coveted by elite coaching aspirants. But it can also be a miserable, lonely experience as Coetzee is no doubt discovering.

Paris is a wonderful city, but he won’t have enjoyed much of it. He would have heard and seen the angry missives from South Africa. 

The biting headlines would have been relayed to him and he will be aware of the savage attacks on social media and the memes that fly around to add a layer of gallows humour to our collective despair.

It was ever thus with Springbok coaches. The job has a remarkable capacity for wearing down its protagonists. 

Even powerful, feisty men like Jake White and Nick Mallett had their backs bent under the enormous strain of the job. 

All our recent coaches could do a formidable coaching job, but what good is that when so little of it is truly hands-on coaching. Increasingly it’s like juggling mercury. It’s a job of management, of appeasement, of compromise, of concession.

England’s Eddie Jones talks of “chaos theory”, the idea of introducing chaos into training sessions and other environments to force his team out of their comfort zone. It’s a novel concept, although it would never work for the Springboks.

There is no comfort zone for South Africa’s best. Chaos is a constant accompaniment, seldom of their own doing but because of their environment. 

Top players are constantly packing up and heading overseas. Injuries are a recurring curse. Issues of transformation rage. We don’t have a coherent playing style.

There’s little doubt that the pressure eventually gets to all Springbok coaches. They age twice as fast in the job. 

Once they’re over the thrill of being appointed, reality sets in and enthusiasm levels drop. It’s a fiendishly difficult job made harder by an unforgiving fan base and a long, heavy history of excellence.

The Boks are constantly measured against their forebears, men who carved out great chunks of history, but it’s really a zero-sum game. No-one wins.

It doesn’t help that results also produce extraordinarily contrasting emotions from fans, who know little of the art of perspective. We vent and rage after the Boks get thrashed 57-0, yet are encouraged to the point of celebration by a one-point defeat to the same opponents a few weeks later. 

Perhaps it’s what desperation does to people.

If Coetzee does get nudged, the requirements for his replacement will be the usual. His two key performance indicators will be success on the field and transformation. 

Linked to winning is the need to be a consistent selector and having an understanding of how the Boks play.

The moment last week’s team was announced you knew the odds were long on the Boks getting a favourable result. 

Tactics change from game to game, as they must, but the broad template shouldn’t. In Coetzee’s past two years the Boks have been caught between two stools, one of stricture and structure and another of instinct and free thinking. 

Both styles have their virtues, but no team can flick-flack from one week to the next.

These are difficult times; times made worse by the shameful group of men who ganged up on South Africa's World Cup bid this past week. We needed the Cup to give us back our drive and focus. We needed the Cup to make us feel worthy.

Now our Springboks must, somehow.

Sunday Tribune 

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