JOHANNESBURG - For a man who at the start of the Test season was adamant there would be no excuses this year, Springbok boss Allister Coetzee sure had excuses aplenty for his team’s struggles in Europe over the past month when they arrived back in South Africa on Monday.
While it wasn’t the disaster of 2016, when the Boks lost all three Tests in Europe, it was bad enough, with the side losing to Ireland and Wales, with wins coming against lowly Italy and under-achieving France - teams ranked much lower than the Boks. In fact the 2017 season has seen Coetzee’s team win only seven games - all of them against teams ranked lower than them.
At the end of last year, Coetzee gave a long list of excuses why his Boks only managed four wins, among them the fact he was appointed late - in April - and didn’t have sufficient time to plan and prepare for the Test season.
This year, he said, there would be no excuses and he staged several planning and conditioning camps, he “strengthened” his coaching team, and he was able to maintain continuity in his team selection. Yet, Coetzee provided every excuse under the sun for his team’s below-par showing in Europe over the past month - and for much of the year.
“Against Wales, we lost by a penalty. Handre (Pollard) hit the posts, Marx’s try was disallowed ... Wales got off to a flier,” said Coetzee. “But with two wins (on tour) it’s a 50% improvement on last year so I’m pleased.
"We must remember I started the year with a new team ... 12 new caps, playing in Europe for the first time. We had to start afresh this year; there were new coaches and a new group of players. The way I look at it is we didn’t lose nine games ... we had seven wins and two draws. We made progress and that’s a positive for me.
“We went on tour with young players and consider our loose-trio (on Saturday, against Wales) didn’t include Francois Louw, Duane Vermeulen, Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel... Jean-Luc du Preez. Also Vincent Koch is overseas and Frans Malherbe and Coenie Oosthuizen are out. But we showed we can compete.”
Coetzee failed to mention that Wales, too, were missing several first choice players - up to 10 men who’d ordinarily run out for them in a Six Nations Test.
“The average number of caps in our backs is 10. These guys are not there yet, they’re not experienced yet. Wales paid a fine of £60 000 to be able to play Toby Faletau, who turns out for Bath ... they were prepared to pay that; it’s how it happens there. Their fullback, Leigh Halfpenny, has 60 odd Test caps, Dan Biggar has 50 odd Tests ... and that 8, 10, 15 spine runs their show. They have all the experience when compared to our team.”
Coetzee went on to suggest his team weren’t prepared for the testing European conditions. “It is so far removed up in the north to what we know in the south,” said Coetzee.
“Club rugby in Europe is closer to Test rugby ... what with the wet conditions, and you realise it is better to be without ball (than with it) and turning the opposition. In Super Rugby we have a ball-in-hand mindset.
“I believe all we need is more experience at 9, 10, 15 to help us get into the right areas (on the field) and be more tactically astute. We are headed in the right direction, but it is up to Saru to determine whether there has been growth and development in this team.”
Coetzee will now file a tour report which he will hand to his employers who’ll do a review with him in due course. It is expected that new director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will be involved in that review.