DURBAN - When the emotion calms down for Springbok supporters after the 38-3 thrashing by Ireland, a thought should perhaps be spared for Allister Coetzee, the obvious scapegoat, but a coach who is clearly floundering at sea and in urgent need of a lifebuoy.
Put on the spot after yet another record-breaking loss for the Boks under his watch, Coetzee was initially at a loss for words.
“It is difficult to explain ... there are frankly no positives to be taken from that performance,” he began before recovering to revert to type.
“We let ourselves down, we let our supporters back home down and we have three games left on tour to fight back.”
What else could he say? Those with sharpened knives for Coetzee should look at the bigger picture and wonder if anybody else could do better given the greater malaise that has stricken South African rugby.
For a start there are roughly 300 South Africans playing professional rugby in Europe, the domestic competitions are consequently under-strength, and so on ... But examining the very real problems in our game are a debate for another day.
Let’s also bear in mind that if the 2019 World Cup goes according to form, the Boks will finish runners-up in their pool and play Ireland in the quarter-finals. At this point, the Irish have no reason to raise a sweat about advancing to the semi-finals in Japan. For now, though, let’s go back to Coetzee and the embarrassing defeat to a rugby country that now expects to routinely beat the Boks.
“Look, the 57-0 Albany defeat to the All Blacks was tough but we came back and I’m sure we will do so again,” Coetzee said, sounding very much like he was clutching at straws.
The Boks might well recover with another heartening performance, but probably not any time soon. Not overseas anyway, where Paris this week is likely to be as inhospitable as Dublin. Italy are next in Padua and they will have genuine hope that they can repeat last year’s historic win in Florence, and the tour finale in Cardiff already has a Wales repeat victory written all over it.
“I cannot see anything like this changing in a short space of time,” Coetzee said frankly before again returning to media-speak. “We have to learn from this one and come out and improve. We let ourselves and our supporters down and we take full responsibility for this disappointment.”
Coetzee then praised Ireland for outsmarting the Boks with their tactics, and once more you have to wonder what is going on with the greater Springbok coaching staff and management if they could not see the Ireland tactics coming and at least have selected players better equipped to deal with the aerial expertise of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, or the front row excellence of British and Irish Lions stars Tadgh Furlong and Rory Best, plus veteran strongman Cian Healy.
The proverbial man in the pub could have told you what was coming at the Aviva Stadium.
“I have to say Ireland tactically played very well,” Coetzee proffered, “while we lacked patience in our plan, especially our kicking game. Ireland taught us that we have to have patience with tactical kicking and build from it.
“Instead we showed that we were concerned at not getting reward from kicking and were rushed into other options,” Coetzee added. “Ireland gave us a lesson. They were patient and went 9-0 ahead through taking the penalty goal opportunities that came their way. They then scored a try and suddenly we were 14-0 down and playing catch-up, and trying to play too much rugby when it was not on instead of backing our kicking game.”
It did not help losing Coenie Oosthuizen in the first minute. He is on his way back home to Durban with a knee injury. A decision on a replacement has not yet been made.
In other bad news, flank/lock Pieter-Steph du Toit suffered concussion in the closing minutes of the game and will be closely monitored this week before a decision is made on his availability for France.