Forget Coetzee, blame SARU

Date published: November 23 2016

A new Springbok coach won't solve South Africa's rugby issues. Only the South African Rugby Union can do that.

The time for denial is over. What SA rugby is experiencing now has been coming for a long time. The first big shock was former coach Heyneke Meyer's final year in charge, when the Boks lost to Argentina on home soil for the first time before Japan rocked South Africa to its core at the World Cup.

Allister Coetzee's first season in charge has been a disaster. There is no way around that. And yes, rugby in South Africa is in crisis. Many fans and pundits have blamed Coetzee, transformation and politics for South Africa's demise and while those three issues have contributed to the problem, they aren't solely to blame for what is going on at the moment.

The Springboks have lost their aura. Sorry Allister, but it's true. By the way, denial has been one of the major reasons we find ourselves in this mess.

Coetzee has failed on all levels, even transformation where, because he is a black coach, he has been given an easier ride by politicians and the media compared to his predecessor.

People point to transformation being to blame for where we find ourselves, but in reality Coetzee has introduced only one new black player (Bongi Mbonambi) to Test rugby in 2016. In fact, his transformation numbers have decreased as the season has progressed.

In the series against Ireland, Coetzee picked five players of colour in his starting lineup for the first and third Test, and six for the second. In all three games there were at least a further three players of colour on the bench.

The numbers stayed relatively consistent throughout the Rugby Championship, the second Test against New Zealand in Durban having had the least (four) amount of black players in the starting XV.

During this time Coetzee also did exactly what Meyer was criticised for last year, when he picked a white player out of position on the wing ahead of a specialist black winger. Meyer did it with Jesse Kriel and Coetzee picked Francois Hougaard ahead of Lwazi Mvovo. Meyer was crucified; no one uttered a word when Coetzee did it.

Coetzee also picked only three players of colour in his starting lineup against England. Again, he picked a lock (Pieter-Steph du Toit) out of position on the flank while the likes of Oupa Mohoje and Nizaam Carr were available to cover that position.

In the end the crisis was caused by a combination of factors. They are, in no particular order: Poor coaching, poor decision making, poor game plans, poor structures and probably most importantly, amateur administrators.

Everyone has been quick to point the finger at Coetzee, but he is merely the symptom of a larger problem. But just to be clear, yes, he should be fired for being the coach of South Africa's worst season ever.

There is, however, no guarantee, depending on who they could get, that the Boks' problems will be solved by a new coach. While poor coaching and selections have clearly been an issue this year, Coetzee is not the first Springbok coach forced to do his job under the current structure of South African rugby.

The system is broken. It always has been. The reason things haven't been this bad before is due to talented, world class coaches and players being part of the setup. For years they papered over the cracks of what is a poorly run game where most of the 14 unions are bankrupt and the ones who aren't are not much better off. Just look at what happened to Western Province recently.

The Springboks have been able to rise above the state of the structures and amateur administrators in this country because of the talent of coaches and players in years gone by.

The start of Jake White's tenure, a world class coach discarded by Saru after winning the World Cup in 2007, coincided with a golden generation of players, the last of which played under Meyer.

That generation is gone. John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Fourie du Preez, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Frans Steyn and Percy Montgomery were special, world class players. Legends of the game.

Bryan Habana is the only one left, and even he looks as if he doesn't want to be there.

Coetzee was made coach of the Springboks at a time when those players had all moved on, and a time when the player drain to Europe and Japan has never been greater.

Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the Boks would not have fallen so far had they been coached by someone better than Coetzee. When Meyer was forced to walk away after last year's World Cup, SARU declined to advertise the position of Springbok coach and instead headhunted Rassie Erasmus.

When it was clear Erasmus wasn't interested, they opted for the only viable candidate left – Allister Coetzee. On paper Coetzee is absolutely qualified to coach the Springboks. Unfortunately, that doesn't say much. It's clear with hindsight that he was the wrong choice.

The people in charge at SARU should shoulder the blame for the state Springbok rugby finds itself in.

They have failed to act in the best interest of South African rugby time and again and now there is nowhere left to hide. They appointed Coetzee so late he barely had a chance to prepare for the Ireland series. They also equipped him with inexperienced coaches at international level who are out of their depth.

The only people capable of turning things around are the decision makers at SARU. They run the game in this country. If the system is broken, only they can fix it.

They must act now.

by Kobus Pretorius