DURBAN - There is an old adage that cautions a person from putting his or her nose into bad business. It probably explains why Rassie Erasmus has distanced himself from the Springboks this month ahead of taking up his position of the South African Rugby Union’s (Saru’s) director of rugby.
It has been reported that Erasmus did not so much as have coffee with Allister Coetzee in the week of the Test against Ireland, despite Erasmus being not far down the road from Dublin in Cork, where he was wrapping up a successful 18-month stint as coach of Munster.
It has further been stated that Erasmus will not engage with the Springbok team management until 2018, despite on Monday pitching up for his job as Saru director of rugby.
Perhaps it is the diplomatic thing to do for Erasmus to at this stage refrain from adding his five cents worth to the troubled Springbok coaching staff, but it is more likely that the streetwise Erasmus is content to let Coetzee hang himself with his own rope before making his recommendation to the Saru board that Coetzee’s contract should be terminated.
After the 38-3 disaster in Dublin, it was reported that Saru president Mark Alexander was seen having a heated exchange with Coetzee at the Aviva Stadium. We can infer that the boss has reached the point where the coach is about to get the medal that has been awarded to so many (under-performing) Springbok coaches - the DCM (don’t come Monday!), as Ian McIntosh colourfully put it when he was sacked by Louis Luyt.
Behind the scenes, Alexander and Erasmus surely have been discussing the way forward for the Springboks post-Coetzee.
It is untenable for Coetzee to continue to Japan in 2019 given that he has not advanced the team one iota since succeeding Heyneke Meyer, who, to be fair, had his fair share of catastrophes (Japan in Brighton and Argentina in Durban).
In fact, the Boks have gone backwards, even if we factor in mitigating circumstances such as the late appointment of Coetzee last year, which meant the Boks were under-prepared for the home series against Ireland and were playing catch-up thereafter.
But there are at least three highly salient points that Erasmus would have long ago identified as problem areas that can be tracked down to Coetzee alone. They are inconsistent and poorly judged selections, an inept game plan, and a poor transformation record.
In coaching the Boks to a depressing record of 10 wins in 23 matches, Coetzee has clearly been presiding over a team in crisis. There is no point in going over the list of humiliations since the Boks finished third at the 2015 World Cup. We know them only too well.
More pertinent is examining the way the Boks have played since that (unfortunately) one-off display against the All Blacks at Newlands. It was very much a false dawn for the Boks.
The All Blacks were tired after travelling from Argentina and they had already won the Rugby Championship, while the beleaguered Boks had whipped themselves up into a frenzy.
It was a very good performance from the Boks but it says it all that South Africa celebrated a defeat. That is how desperate Springbok supporters have become.
The Boks’ next match, against Ireland, cruelly exposed the myth of a Springbok revival. That one game was a microcosm of everything that Coetzee has got wrong over the last two years.
Erasmus, possibly sipping a pint of Guinness down in Cork, would have noted the inexplicable selection of players who were always going to fail against an Ireland team that is built on the foundations of the technically excellent kicking game of halfbacks Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton and the rock solid scrumming of their front row.
Coetzee could have picked players better equipped for that match but didn’t. The game plan was bereft of direction and harshly exposed the Boks as a team that at best can muster a one-off, emotion-driven performance on home soil. And then there is the notable fact that Coetzee picked just three black players to start against Ireland.
It is true that Super Rugby and Currie Cup coaches have done him no favours in broadening the pool of black players who on merit can be selected, but only Coetzee is to blame for taking on tour players such as Rudy Paige, Lukhanyo Am and Warrick Gelant and limiting them to the role of tackle bag holders.