JOHANNESBURG – Springbok legend Victor Matfield says he “feels” for sacked Bok coach Allister Coetzee, but that there is “technically not a better coach in South Africa” than Rassie Erasmus.
Coetzee was sacked on Friday, just over two years into his four-year contract to coach the Boks – and national director of rugby Erasmus is widely expected to take control of the team.
If Erasmus does take over, he will be the fourth new Bok coach in 11 years.
Former captain Matfield, who played under Coetzee when he was Jake White’s assistant coach between 2004 and 2007, said he felt for Coetzee, who operated in a highly pressurised environment.
“Allister is a fantastic person and I always enjoyed working with him. I feel for him.
“It’s a tough job and the pressure’s unbelievable. But it’s time now to look towards the next World Cup (2019) and the British and Irish Lions tour.”
Matfield said the Boks would be in good hands with Erasmus in charge.
“Technically, there is not a better coach in South Africa. In fact, he’s one of the best in the world. And the record of Jacques Nienaber (who will assist Erasmus) speaks for itself; he was brilliant at the Stormers.
“If Eddie Jones can turn England around in one season, Rassie can do the same with the Boks. So, there’s enough time to get the Boks back on track.”
Another ex-skipper Corné Krige, who led the team under Rudolf Straeuli at a time when results also weren’t favourable, said he empathised with Coetzee.
“I’ve got lots of sympathy for him. I know what it’s like to play in an era when results don’t go your way, and the shots keep on coming. It’s not nice.
“But a change is as good as a holiday. It’ll get players focused and re-energised.
“The excitement comes back and everyone will start on a clean sheet, from scratch. And there will be no favouritism.”
Krige said Erasmus had the skills and knowledge to turn the Boks’ fortunes around. “I have huge respect for him,” he said of his former teammate and fellow loose forward.
“He’s an astute coach with an incredible rugby brain, and he’s always got positive results wherever he’s coached. He won’t solve all the problems at SA Rugby, but he might do the Boks a world of good.”
Coetzee fought hard to cling on to his position, but in the end, the South African Rugby Union decided a 44 percent win ratio – 11 wins from 25 Tests – was not good enough for him to continue in his job.
The Boks have been on a merry-go-round ever since Jake White led them to World Cup glory in 2007, with Peter de Villiers, Heyneke Meyer and Coetzee all having their ups and downs.
By month’s end there will be a new man in charge, expected to be Erasmus, who is already heading up Saru’s “Rugby Department” in a position termed director of rugby.
He will be assisted by long-time friend and defence coach Jacques Nienaber and scrum guru Pieter de Villiers and, it looks likely, Mzwandile Stick, who was Coetzee’s backs assistant in 2016 before getting the boot after just one season in the Bok fold.
What the future holds for Matt Proudfoot and Franco Smith – both involved as assistants to Coetzee in recent times – is unknown.
Defence coach Brendan Venter was employed on a consultancy basis and is unlikely to continue.
Just what led to Coetzee making such a dramatic U-turn this week – following his explosive letter to the Saru executive last week, in which he detailed several gripes related to his position and in which he seemed to suggest he was ready to fight for his continued employment – is not known.
It is also not known what deal Coetzee accepted to “part ways” with SA Rugby, but it is understood his letter to Saru chief executive Jurie Roux and the executive – and the leaking thereof – could have been hugely damaging with regards to the final payout.
It is believed that the first offer on the table could well have been one of the biggest in South African sport.
In a press statement on Friday, Coetzee said it was the right time that he and the Boks “strike out in new directions”.
When contacted by Independent Media, Coetzee was not willing to elaborate on his statement, saying all enquiries would be dealt with by Saru.
Roux said: “We had to assess what was in the best interests of the Springboks. We thank Allister for his passion and dedication, and wish him every success in his next role.”
Former Bok scrumhalf and former teammate of Erasmus, Werner Swanepoel, agreed with Matfield and Krige.
“If we put our emotions to one side, Allister’s win-loss record was not good enough. This is the right decision for the future of the Boks.
“Rassie is the right guy. He’s a mature coach now, he’s been overseas, and he knows and understands what it takes to win.
“There is no one better than him right now, but he, like all coaches, will be judged on his results.”
The new-look management and coaching team is expected to be named by the end of the month.