South African national rugby union coach Allister Coetzee watches during a Springboks training session. Photo: KIM LUDBROOK/EPA
JOHANNESBURG – When everything went wrong for the Springboks last year, coach Allister Coetzee was to blame.

Coetzee was blamed for selecting the wrong captain in Adriaan Strauss, it was also his fault that his management was given to him by Saru but most of all, it was all Coetzee’s fault that the Springboks lost eight of the 12 Tests they played in.

Fast forward to a year after his first Test at the reins of the Bok team, which was a maiden defeat to Ireland on home soil, and Coetzee has managed to guide the team to a win against France.

Instead of his detractors and naysayers applauding “Toetie” for the brave selections and style of play the Boks employed in beating France at Loftus Versfeld, it was the players that instead got the recognition.

I agree that the players should take a lot of credit for what we saw on the field in Pretoria, but who was the man pulling the strings in the background?

The Springboks celebrate with try scorer Ross Cronje (hidden) against France at Loftus. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

It was Allister Coetzee.

This is not about being Coetzee’s praise singer, but giving credit where it is due.

It was Toetie who meticulously put together the training camps during the course of the Super Rugby season, it was Toetie who insisted on defence guru Brendan Venter joining his management team, it was Toetie who chose Warren Whiteley as his captain and the many new faces we saw do their thing at Loftus.

And it was Toetie who gave the players free reign to map out this new team culture that they wax lyrically about from that week they spent in Plettenberg Bay.

Warren Whiteley, Tendai Mtawarira and Malcolm Marx. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

Even with the proverbial axe constantly hanging over his head and talk of this being a do-or-die series for him, Toetie has presented a brave face and fronted all of his critics, and successfully masterminded the win in the first Test.

In the aftermath of the Loftus victory, it was Toetie again who acknowledged that the team’s performance was far from perfect, but it was a step in the right direction.

I also acknowledge that Saturday’s win shouldn’t be the only barometer of Coetzee’s tumultuous tenure as Bok coach, and that the disaster of 2016 will be part of his legacy long after he has left the job.

Surely Coetzee learnt some harsh but valuable lessons from last year and unlike most of his predecessors, it doesn’t look like he will be repeating any of those this year.

Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx breaks the French defence during the Test at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. Picture: EPA

If we are all honest, Coetzee was never really given a fighting chance to survive, let alone be successful in his job last year.

Give the man a chance, let him show us and the rest of the rugby world what it is that he can do without bringing up his past and blaming him for the bad decisions that Saru made on his behalf last year.

On Saturday I saw the Boks take the step in the right direction, and I saw in them the resilience and fighting spirit that Coetzee has shown in his short but turmoil-filled time in the hot seat.

When things went wrong, Toetie might have been to blame, and now that things are going right for the Boks, let us give credit where it is due.


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The Star

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