Allister Coetzee Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – There has been a refreshing breeze blowing in South African rugby this season, on and off the field.

Yes, there was a delay with the review of Springbok coach Allister Coetzee and whether he will continue despite South Africa losing eight out of 12 Tests, and his support staff have finally been sorted too in the shape of Franco Smith and Brendan Venter.

But on the field, it has been a sort of revolution in terms of how local Super Rugby sides play the game. The Stormers, of all teams, have led the way in that regard.

The renaissance at Newlands has been a long time coming, but with Robbie Fleck and Gert Smal changing the mindset within the Stormers set-up, and New Zealander Paul Feeney showing the players exactly how to practically implement that shift in thinking, everybody in Boundary Road is walking with a spring in their step.

And the biggest surprising factor of that growth has been the fact that they have done it with hardly any big names, especially in the backline.

Without Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Huw Jones, Leolin Zas and Jean-Luc du Plessis, there were initial fears that the Cape side may come up short on attack and defence.

But while the defence has steadily improved, the creative side of things has been flourishing. Unheralded fullback SP Marais was regarded as a journeyman, but having been preferred to Kolbe at No 15, he is now a genuine Springbok contender.

Kolbe has been his busy self out wide, while Dillyn Leyds has been a force with ball-in-hand. Add in the hard-running and silky touches of EW Viljoen, Dan du Plessis and Robert du Preez, and you have the complete package.

The Lions haven’t quite reached the levels of 2016, but are slowly getting there, while the Sharks have reinvented themselves with a mixture of physicality and hard graft, and the sparkle of Cobus Reinach, Curwin Bosch and Lukhanyo Am.

The Bulls have been battling, but some individuals have stood out, such as Burger Odendaal, Lizo Gqoboka and Travis Ismaiel, and the same applies to the Cheetahs.

Even the Southern Kings, having won just one out of six games, have embraced the free-flowing game, and scored 18 tries – more than the Highlanders, Sharks, Cheetahs, Bulls, Force, Reds and Rebels.

The fitness of South African players across the board also appears to have improved significantly.

So, all the building blocks seem to be in place for the Springboks to also undergo a metamorphosis from a plodding, defensive-minded outfit that lose to teams like Wales and Italy to a respected world power challenging the All Blacks to be the best team on the planet.

But will they? Coetzee is the face of the “percentage game”, having stuck to it doggedly at the Stormers and last year at Test level.

After surviving the axe over the new year, it is highly unlikely that the former scrumhalf is suddenly going to change tack entirely and utilise a possession-based style of play.

Apart from how the Boks will approach the game, one of Coetzee’s main shortcomings in 2016 was getting his selections right. He half-heartedly used the all-conquering Lions players in the first half of the season, but gradually fazed them out, even bringing back Morné Steyn at one stage.

That probably won’t happen this year, but can you see Coetzee handing the No 10 jersey to someone like Bosch? I didn’t think so.

Will Allister Coetzee hand the Springbok No 10 jersey to Curwin Bosch? Photo: Gerhard Duraan, BackpagePix

There aren’t proven Test players excelling in Super Rugby in key positions such as flyhalf, fullback, centre and wing, and it’s the same situation at openside flank, hooker and tighthead prop.

Don’t read too much into those invited to the two Bok training camps so far. Coetzee is someone who prefers an experienced player who may not be at his previous high level to a youngster in top form.

That could see him turning to the overseas contingent, such as Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux, many of whom disappointed him last season, while other “favourites” such as Pat Lambie and Handré Pollard have either been injured or far from their best.

As much as you can argue that there are so many world-class southern-hemisphere players in Europe, the game just doesn’t match the intensity of Super Rugby.

Coetzee can forge a new path for the Boks with the new talent coming through.

But the coach has often stated that Super Rugby is not Test rugby, and with another like-minded individual in Venter in his management team, they probably won’t encourage an all-encompassing ball-in-hand game that someone like backline coach Franco Smith would like to see.

The new kids on the block back home are able to “jol” – as rugby players like to describe attacking rugby. But will the “DJ” Coetzee provide a dance floor?

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Independent Media