State of the Nation: South Africa

Date published: November 29 2016

With the November internationals now done and dusted for most teams, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, South Africa.

The 2016 International season is over, and no one country and their fans are more grateful for that than South Africa.

Few would have predicted the turbulent year the Springboks experienced, winning just four from 12 Tests to confirm it as the worst season in their history.

Luckily for Bok fans, coach Allister Coetzee believes things can “only get better from here” and has promised to learn the necessary lessons ahead of another taxing year in 2017.

The season has influenced next year’s World Cup draw and not in a good way. It will have far reaching consequences in Japan in 2019 where the Boks are destined to be drawn in a “pool of death” with one of the current top four teams.

A lot of analysis has been done on what exactly caused the Boks to tumble down the world rankings after historic defeats to Ireland, Argentina, New Zealand, Wales and Italy. The concensus is that many factors contributed to the decline of Springbok rugby, but evidently Coetzee wasn’t a big enough one to get the sack.

Whether the South African Rugby Union can afford to fire him is another matter, but it’s clear he is lucky to still be in a job after the results of the past six months.

Needless to say, no one looked forward to the end of year tour where Tests against England, Italy and Wales waited.

An unbeaten England under Eddie Jones was always going to be tough so there was little surprise when the Boks were beaten 37-21 for the first time in 10 years, even after they managed to limit the damage during the first half.

Then, just when you thought the Boks couldn’t get any worse, they produced the biggest shock of all by losing to an inexperienced Italy 20-18 in what has been compared to the Japan loss at last year’s World Cup.

Coetzee gambled with a young, inexperienced side against Wales which made no difference as they went down 27-13 to finish the season with a win record of 33 percent.

In the wake of the disaster everyone has been blamed. Coetzee, SARU, politics, transformation, a lack of team culture and too many overseas based players.

What is clear, however, is that rugby in South Africa is still being run by amateurs within amateur structures and that has to change. Plans are in motion to change the system, but how successful they will be remains to be seen.

Coetzee is not innocent in all of this. He believes he is not solely to blame for the results of the Springboks and therefore he won’t resign.

But his team selections have been poor and the implementation of a clear, effective game plan looks beyond him. Coetzee fielded five different centre combinations, a string of fly-halves and some unbalanced loose trio’s in his first year.

The Boks also suffered from a lack of leaders in 2016, captain Adriaan Strauss becoming increasingly isolated while he lacked strong on-field leadership. His accurate lineout throwing will be the only thing missed after his retirement.

As for 2017, the challenges are massive and changes won’t happen overnight. In terms of Coetzee, equipping him with a strong and more experienced coaching staff is a start. Someone with the expertise of Brendan Venter should be used more regularly for starters.

SARU also needs to formulate a policy on the selection of overseas based players. Many Boks play their trade in Europe and Japan and it has been identified as a problem. Coetzee has also criticised the fitness levels of those players, yet he continued to pick them.

Coetzee may have survived the worst year in Springbok history, but with changes on their way there will be little to no excuses this time next year. Another win ratio of less than 60 percent just won’t do.

by Kobus Pretorius

Read the rest of our State of the Nation pieces right here