The pros and cons of keeping Coetzee
The South African Rugby Union (Saru) has had a tough and complicated decision to make - to keep Springbok coach Allister Coetzee or sack him after a poor 2016 season.
It now appears, however, that Coetzee will stay on, at least for the June series against France, after which a decision on his continued involvement will be taken. Here are the pros and cons of keeping Coetzee.
It’s the right thing to do: With government pushing for greater representation - and rightly so - it’s massively important to have a black coach, for Saru’s sake and for the good of South Africa. Coetzee has had domestic success with provincial teams and he was a World Cup winner in 2007, so it’s not as if he has become a poor coach overnight; rather he possibly didn’t get a fair crack at things last year after being appointed as late as he was. Also, it didn’t help him that some of his assistants weren’t up to scratch.
He knows what’s in store: There is no doubt coaching the Springboks is one of the toughest jobs in world sport. But, after four years with Jake White, and having gone through what he did in 2016, Coetzee knows what to expect and possibly what to do to turn things around.
He would have learned a massive amount in 2016 - about himself as coach and selector, Test rugby and his players, that is, who’s up to it and who isn’t. Keeping him in the job at least means the Boks aren’t starting from scratch; well, not quite. And he’ll be desperate to turn things around.
It can only get better: Let’s be honest, the Boks will surely not be as bad this year as they were in 2016. So, the only way is up, and if it’s not Coetzee at the helm then who else is there to coach the side? Not many will want the job with all the prescriptions that go with it and the pressures involved. Coetzee has also invested in certain young players and he will hope they come good this year having gone through the rigours of 2016 - and he’s likely to have more fit men to pick from this year. There’s a new core and they will be better off for it this year with Coetzee leading them.
Results: We cannot get away from the fact the Boks under Coetzee in 2016 were diabolical. They won four Tests out of 12 and also drew with the Barbarians. There were embarrassing defeats, against Ireland, Argentina and Italy and beatings from the All Blacks, among others.
One can say without hesitation the Boks took several steps backwards in 2016. They didn’t look like a side that knew what they were doing half the time and Coetzee simply couldn’t shake off the conservative tag that has been pinned on him since his coaching days in the Western Cape.
Selections: More than once last year, Coetzee’s selections were questioned. First, he picked a captain (Adriaan Strauss) he supposedly knew would be hanging up his boots at year’s end - why, why, why? - and then when Strauss failed to fire, Coetzee wasn’t prepared to change him for a new leader and hooker, be it Bongi Mbonambi or Malcolm Marx. There was never certainty around the props and loose forwards, while the centres he picked most of the time played on reputation rather than form. A player like Willie le Roux was axed and then recalled and it seemed Coetzee was never sure about his choices.
Progress: One has to ask what Saru think will be different by keeping Coetzee on for another year or series. Is the national team actually going to show progress and development - improvement, if you like - in 2017 with the same coach and major decision-maker in charge? What is going to be different? He will, after all, largely pick the same players - or not? - and is his game-plan going to change to be more dynamic and attack-minded? And having backed certain assistants in 2016, what’s to say they will be better off a year on? The reality is the Boks showed no signs of being a world force last year and there’s no indication anything will be different in 2017.