JOHANNESBURG - With just 11 wins in 25 Tests, the pressure on Bok coach Coetzee has reached boiling point. Should he stay or should he go? Our five rugby writers give their views...
Jacques van der Westhuyzen
While it’s all well and good to want to inspire a nation and give them hope, in the world of professional sport being competitive and winning is all that matters. Eleven wins from Coetzee's 25 Tests is not good enough, period. Various reasons were provided for the poor showing in his first year in 2016, among them the fact he was appointed late, but in 2017 he’s been given everything he’s asked for: two new assistants in Franco Smith and Brendan Venter, planning and training camps, and loads of time to be well conditioned and well prepared... but none of these things have helped make the Springboks a winning team. There’s been no progress, and keeping him will only prolong the suffering and embarrassment.
In a normal environment Coetzee would have either jumped or been pushed. But there is nothing normal about South African rugby. The average set of results, beleaguered and conservative game plan, and questionable team selections which include turning a blind eye to the need for a much-concerted effort to transformation has been the undoing of Coetzee. The inability to beat any of the top four nations this year and record defeats against the All Blacks and Ireland can no longer be allowed to fester for fear of the Springboks sinking even lower. Eighteen months is just about sufficient time for a new coach to do something different and successful prior to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Eleven wins in 25 Tests is damning enough, but more significant is the fact that there is not even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. A dissection of the first half against Wales confirmed everything that was so horrendously wrong in the illuminating match against Ireland, which laid starkly bare the Springboks’ shortcomings. Again there were muddled selections that had players unequipped to field the high ball; players were picked out of position; no semblance of a game plan as shown by the terrible series of hopeless kicks. Allister Coetzee has brought the Springboks to their knees. The national team is irretrievably broken and like Humpty Dumpty, it cannot be put together again. At least not by Coetzee.
There are only so many possible reasons to speak in favour of Coetzee, and eventually, those reasons will run out. I believe the case for Coetzee has undoubtedly been trumped by the case against the Bok coach following the conclusion of the Springboks’ disappointing end-of-year tour and everything before that. Coetzee isn’t the only one to blame for the Boks’ problems, though. South African rugby needs drastic change, and that doesn’t only go for the coach. From administrative issues to coaching, player management and development to transformation, we need to change the way we do rugby in South Africa and you need the right mindset and personnel to do so. You can’t just give a car a spray paint and expect it to drive differently.
Coetzee has run his race, run out of excuses, and cannot justify his position at the top anymore. The coach has broken records for poor performances through his two years, never once adding to the Springbok narrative in a positive way. Given the four-year stint that usually accompanies a Springbok job, one has to wonder what he can add heading towards the 2019 World Cup in Japan. More so, one has to note that two years is just enough time to give another coach a chance at an ambulance job for the global showpiece. Retaining Coetzee is accepting mediocrity and also accepting that the Springboks will not be growing alongside the rest of the rugby world.