Springbok slump: Five tips for Allister Coetzee

Date published: September 21 2016

With South Africa on a three-match losing streak, we give coach Allister Coetzee five tips to turn things around for his struggling side in the home leg of the Rugby Championship.

Keep the core of his squad together
With their next match less than two weeks away, and with just one win under their belt in the Rugby Championship, it’s important that Coetzee keeps his squad and coaching staff together in the run-up to their next Test against the Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. The decision to release fringe players to their Currie Cup provinces for game-time is understandable but the majority of the players who were in action during the Boks’ previous matches should, along with the coaching staff, stick together for the next week and a half ahead of their Test against Australia. Coetzee’s appointment in April left little time for him to prepare for their three Tests against Ireland in June and although they claimed a 2-1 series win against the men from the Emerald Isle, Coetzee and the Boks have been playing catch-up ever since so more time spent on preparations for their remaining Rugby Championship matches can only do good.

Sort out the defence
For the past 21 years since South Africa won the 1995 Rugby World Cup on home soil, Springbok teams have gained a worldwide reputation for their superb performances on defence. While the Boks’ attacking play has been lagging behind the All Blacks during the past two decades, their defence generally kept them in matches against the three-time World Cup winners and clashes between these two arch rivals were usually a battle of contrasting styles. However, the Boks of 2016’s defensive woes were exposed in Saturday’s 41-13 defeat to the world champions who outscored them by six tries to one. The Boks’ defence coach Chean Roux is a novice in this role having previously assisted the team as part of SARU’s Mobi Unit on refereeing and technical aspects. His inexperience in his new role has been evident with the Boks at sixes and sevens on defence during their last few Tests and they have already conceded 12 tries in the Rugby Championship.

Settle on a game-plan
A big topic of discussion, amongst Springbok supporters, in recent weeks is the team’s inability to decide on a specific style of play and to stick to it. The Stormers, with Coetzee as their head coach from 2010 to 2015, gained a reputation for their conservative game-plan in which – ironically – a huge emphasis was placed on defence and low risk taking on attack. The Lions’ superb run to the Super Rugby final this year, in which they threw caution to the wind and backed themselves on attack has led to calls for the Boks to play similarly. This has left Coetzee in a catch 22 situation where he is caught between the two approaches. In the second Test against Ireland in Johannesburg, with the Boks trailing 3-19 at half-time, Coetzee was forced to chase the game and used the Lions style of play as the Boks launched a late comeback which gave them a 32-26 victory. But the next week in Port Elizabeth he reverted to type as South Africa grinded out a 19-13 triumph to clinch the series. There were clear signs of an identity crisis in Christchurch as Elton Jantjies kicked for territory – albeit very poorly – at times and on another occasion he launched a counter attack, from inside his 22, along with Juan de Jongh and Francois Hougaard.

Make some bold selections
With the Rugby Championship title heading to New Zealand, now is the time for Coetzee to make some bold decisions on the selection front. Some of his players have not made the most of the opportunities they received to cement their place in the Boks’ run-on side. The time is surely up for fly-half Elton Jantjies and to a lesser degree his halfback partner Faf de Klerk. Jantjies failed to make the most of the opportunities he received in the Boks’ starting line-up during the latter two Tests against Ireland and the first four Rugby Championship matches. De Klerk was solid during the first two Tests against Ireland and played brilliantly in the third Test of that series as well as the Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Nelspruit but has played progressively worse in his next three Tests reaching his nadir against the All Blacks in Christchurch. Other players who are battling with form include Francois Louw, Beast Mtawarira, captain Adriaan Strauss and Johan Goosen.

Make the Bok scrum strong again
Barring the Test against the All Blacks, Coetzee has been raving about his side’s performances at the set-pieces during their three Rugby Championship matches against los Pumas and the Wallabies. While this has been the case in the line-outs, where the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Pier-Steph du Toit have been dominant, the same can not be said of the scrums. Although the Boks have been solid in the latter department, they have not dominated the opposition and if they can do that then they can use the scrum as an attacking platform. Strauss and fellow front row veteran Mtawarira have started all four of South Africa’s Rugby Championship Tests this year but Julian Redelinghuys, Vincent Koch and Lourens Adriaanse have all started on the tighthead side of the scrum. Another aspect of forward play which the Boks should reintroduce is the rolling maul from line-outs which has been absent in most of their Rugby Championship Tests.

by David Skippers