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Coetzee can make Boks ‘play rugby’

Allister Coetzee looks on after being unveiled as the South Africa Springboks' new rugby coach in Randburg, outside Johannesburg, April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Allister Coetzee looks on after being unveiled as the South Africa Springboks' new rugby coach in Randburg, outside Johannesburg, April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Published Apr 12, 2016

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Cape Town - It was the worst-kept secret that Allister “Toetie” Coetzee would become the new Springbok coach, but the main question was rather around the type of game plan he would employ at Test level.

And while the main question marks around his appointment were about his largely conservative style of play at the Stormers over the years, he made all the right noises on Tuesday in that regard.

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It is not only about whether Coetzee is capable of producing a Bok team that can make better use of the ball than they did at last year’s Rugby World Cup, where Heyneke Meyer went back to safety-first tactics following the disastrous defeat to Japan.

Getting the South African team prepared to take on the All Blacks and Wallabies head-on with a clever attacking game is something that will require a mindset shift within the Springbok culture, where in the modern era, contact was usually sought instead of looking for and playing in space.

And Coetzee immediately stated that while he will most definitely utilise “South African strengths” such as physicality, good scrumming and lineouts, he was prepared to “evolve” his game plan.

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“The area of focus is always about the attack, as we also saw in Super Rugby - a lot of coaches are encouraging the style of ball-in-hand a bit and play a bit in the wider channels or with width,” the 52-year-old said on Tuesday.

“But I’m a firm believer that in this game of rugby, there are different areas to pressure the opposition by. If it’s not the kicking game, set-piece or defence, then somewhere it must be on attack.

“And our big thing, we must have a look at our speed of movement on attack. And that is one thing I will really focus on, to see how quickly we can generate ball, how quickly we can get into position and how quickly we can use our hands to get the ball through.

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“The next thing about the philosophy is about decision-making. We have to put a lot more emphasis on our tactical decision-makers, especially nines and 10s, and the speed of movement.”

Later on Tuesday on a SuperSport rugby magazine programme, Coetzee added that size wouldn’t matter when it comes to selection, and he mentioned star Stormers fullback Cheslin Kolbe as a smaller player who has excelled in Super Rugby, as well as Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie. “There is a need to have that X-factor in the team,” the coach added.

For someone who was almost proud about the fact that the Stormers didn’t score a single four-try bonus point - the only team to do so - in topping the Super Rugby log in 2012 by winning 14 out of 16 league matches, it shows just how much Coetzee has changed his thinking.

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It appears as if the six months spent in Japan as head coach of Kobelco Steelers has made the former Saru captain realise that making better use of the ball is the way to go these days.

The rugby in Japan may not be overly physical, but it is played at great speed and with good skill. Former Bok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez spoke highly about how his game developed from being based around a strong kicking game to utilising a quick passing strategy while he was at Suntory Sungoliath in Japan.

And with teams like the Lions, Stormers and Bulls attempting to hold on to the ball in Super Rugby, it bodes well for the rest of 2016.

Coetzee’s Boks will only play their first Test on June 11 against Ireland at Newlands, which will be the true test of his philosophy. But at least there is hope that the Boks will “play rugby” going forward.

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