JOHANNESBURG - In Allister Coetzee’s now widely disseminated letter to South African Rugby Union CEO, Jurie Roux, the embattled Springbok coach ends with the following line: “I am of the view that an urgent meeting needs to be set up with the executive council of Saru. I believe that it is in the interests of South African Rugby, as well as to avoid any reputational damage towards both Saru and myself.”
Well, it’s a bit late for that. The damage has already been done after the letter was leaked to the media over the weekend.
But it should be no surprise that the South African Rugby Union is now at loggerheads with their senior national coach. It is an old story of Saru; that is, parting ways with Bok coaches on not very good terms.
We can go back to Ian McIntosh, there was Nick Mallett, Jake White, Peter de Villiers and lastly Heyneke Meyer.
Coetzee is simply the next man in the firing line, and he doesn’t like it; hence the angry letter forwarded to Roux and the Suru executive in the last few days.
Coetzee makes several valid points in his writing about the last two mainly disappointing seasons of Test rugby, among them:
- The fact he was given a management team at the start of his tenure and could only appoint one man he wanted, namely Matt Proudfoot
- The fact he was only appointed in April of 2016, two months before the Ireland series in June and only met his management team in May
- The fact his team flew economy class via Doha to Dublin for their 2017 end-of-year tour
- The fact he inherited a squad of players shorn of experience and leadership
- The fact the 30-Test rule came into being in his time as coach, denying him the chance to pick some younger players plying their trade overseas
According to Coetzee all these factors played a role in the Boks slipping down the rankings and losing several Tests during 2016 and 2017.
That may be, but the reality is there are all sorts of challenges in international sport and Coetzee cannot blame anyone but himself for making poor selections over the last two years.
And, at the end of the day, his team - the one he picked and coached - wasn’t good enough. He can blame all sorts of things, as he does in his letter, but the Boks are no better off now than they were at the end of the World Cup in 2015 ... and it’s only results that matter in the end.
But as much as Coetzee is to blame for the demise of the Boks, and is in hindsight maybe not the right man to be coaching them, the coach has every right to be fighting for his job and if anyone, including Saru, believes this little battle is going to go away in the next few days, they’ve got a surprise coming.
Some reports suggest Coetzee and Saru will come to an agreement about the way forward in the next week, but there’s just as good a chance that this matter drags on for several weeks and months ... leaving the Boks in a position they don’t want to be in, at the detriment of the whole of the South African rugby public.
Coetzee has every right to be angry that Saru appointed “director of rugby” Rassie Erasmus and defence guru Jacques Nienaber, with them already working behind the scenes to make the Boks good again in 2018, before they have even properly fully dealt with Coetzee (and his review, contract and position), and his whole management team.
How Saru did not have their ducks in a row in what has now become a very ugly spat is beyond me. But then nothing in South African rugby should ever surprise anyone anymore.